Republican Circular Firing Squad Goes After Critics Of Jim DeMint

The battle between social and fiscal conservatives continues, with the SoCons now saying that criticism of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint is now considered evidence of ideological impurity.

The internal sniping between fiscal conservatives and social conservatives within the Republican Party has escalated to a whole new level, with a group of conservative activists and pundits essentially calling for a purge of anyone who criticizes South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint:

A coalition of conservative organizations and leaders pledged today to field primary opponents for Republican senators who “unfairly” criticize Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who led an insurgent funding effort that helped elect several of the six GOP freshmen senators in the 112th Congress

DeMint has been criticized by anonymous unnamed senior Republican sources who claim his Senate Conservative Fund supported insurgent candidates who lost races to Democrats that allegedly would have been won by more moderate GOPers.

“Such false and unfair attacks aid and abet President Obama, the Democratic Party and the liberal media. We consider such attacks on Senator Jim DeMint an attack on us and all conservatives, and especially the conservative movement that is the successor to Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley, Jr., and other great progenitors of the conservative movement,” the coalition said in a letter delivered today to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.


“In fact, Senator Jim DeMint’s unilateral efforts to bring constitutional small government conservatives into the Senate has encouraged many conservatives to stay within the Republican Party, vote for Republican candidates, and even may have staved off formation of a third party and the demise of the Republican Party.”

The coalition promised that “continued attacks, whether indirectly or anonymously, will result in conservatives’ responding in word and deed.”

To that end, the coalition said, “conservatives will stop funding and volunteering for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the Republican National Committee (RNC). Instead, conservatives will send their money to, and volunteer for, Senator DeMint’s Senate Conservative Fund and the candidates Senator DeMint supports. In fact, it would be our goal for the Senate Conservatives Fund to raise more money than the NRSC.”

Political consultants who criticize DeMint were not exempt from the coalition’s ire, as the letter promised “to defeat in Republican primaries those Republicans who retain consultants who criticize or try to undermine Senator DeMint.”

One of the signers of this “open letter,” Erick Erickson also addressed the fiscal conservative v. social conservative debate that has been on going for the past several days as it applies to DeMint:

The fact is I completely agree with Jim DeMint. You cannot be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative and vice versa. The libertine sensibilities of many a fiscal libertarian will lead the country to social ruin causing government spending to bail out society and the spend-thrift nature of many Republican pro-life statists will lead the country to bankruptcy.

And so, the battle is joined and, just as some on the right have rallied around Sarah Palin and denounced anyone who criticizes her or questions her abilities as a potential leader as a hater, the DeMint-ites now say that any criticism of DeMint, or of his assertion that libertarians should not have a seat at the table, is grounds for being purged and attacked.

Not surprisingly, this letter has provoked a reaction from what might loosely be called “the other side.”

Glenn Reynolds raises the very legitimate concern that the letter focuses not on ideas, but on perceived disagreement with one man:

Going after people over policy is fine. Going after people over criticism of politicians is thuggish. It’s even kinda . . . MoveOnish. Need I say more?

Gabriel Malor has harsher words for the DeMint-ites:

a whole bunch of conservatives are now pissed at you for childishly seizing the name “conservative” and purporting to speak for all of them. It’s a tone thing. Don’t be that guy. It provokes an indignant response: just who the hell are you? Oh, I see you’re those people who signed your names to the bottom. I get that. But, again, I don’t know most of you folks from Adam. And several of the organizations that appear associated with this pronouncement haven’t been all that noteworthy in conservative circles for a few years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have you on board. But don’t you dare try and throw our folks overboard. They’re in this too, thank you very much.

In short, grow up. The GOP just made massive gains in the House and Senate. Instead of pulling together to kick the shit out of Obama and the Democrats during the lame duck, you want to beat up your fellow conservatives and Republicans for imaginary slights to your Senator Dear Leader. Trust me when I say that Jim DeMint and his putative place within the “movement that is the successor to Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley, Jr., and other great progenitors of the conservative movement” is less on the minds of the average GOP voter than you think.

Hot Air’s Allahpundit, meanwhile, takes note of the fact that the letter doesn’t define what “unfair criticism” of DeMint actually is (a fact which, I submit, means that it essentially means whatever the signatories to the letter want it to be) and raises a few other points as well:

A few things I don’t understand, though. One: Why just DeMint? Why not DeMint and Palin and O’Donnell and every other “true conservative” who’s been blamed for midterm failures? Surely they’re not more to blame for the GOP’s minority status in the Senate than he is. Two: What should the party leadership do to “rein in” those who criticize DeMint unfairly? Formal reprimand? Official statement from McConnell/Boehner/Cornyn? How will the leadership know when the criticism is fair versus unfair and therefore worthy of punishment? Three: What exactly would trigger the boycott of the RNC or NRSC mentioned in the letter? A single failure to reprimand? Repeated failure? Or, if enough members of the GOP caucus start criticizing him unfairly, will that trigger a boycott irrespective of committee action? Four: How exactly does a statement like this serve Jim DeMint’s cause? Knowing that his followers want to impose a de facto vow of silence on critics doesn’t make me think, “Hey, let’s give Jim DeMint a more prominent role in the caucus.” It makes me think, “Where, precisely, will this happy little precedent lead?” Sean Hackbarth calls it a right-wing version of political correctness, but of course, of course, he’s a lowly RINO, as am I. And this statement, I think, isn’t meant to be read technically the way I’ve done here but more broadly for what it is — a new “true conservative”/RINO litmus test

I think that’s right on the money, actually. What I believe we’re witnessing here is nothing less than a battle inside the conservative movement to claim the Tea Party’s legacy. Fiscal conservatives are, rightly I think, pointing out that the movement to date has been almost exclusively focused on spending issues and concerns over the size and scope of government. Social conservatives like DeMint, on the other hand, point to the fact that many of the “Tea Party” candidates are, at least in some sense, socially conservative and have also started to make the claim that abortion was the most important issue in the 2010 campaign despite considerable evidence to the contrary. This circling of the wagons around DeMint is another sign of that battle, and may even be a signal that DeMint himself has ambitions for higher office.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. ponce says:

    Is Jim DeMint really the best the crazy cons can come up with?

    Ronald Reagan crapped bigger than him.

  2. sam says:

    Like I’ve said, get ready for Marat/Sade.

  3. wr says:

    I can’t wait for the new congress to pass a law making it illegal to criticize a politician they like. Because they love the constitution so much…

  4. Rick DeMent says:

    Well now the Republicans will finally get to experience the wonderful world of managing a broad coalition. the Democrats have been failing at it for years, now that there is a split in the lockstep caucus that GOP has been blessed with since Reagen, I will enjoy the hilarity that ensues. The founders understood compromise, modern politicians don’t get that the constitution was set up for compromise not winner take all.