A conversation with the Senate’s top conservative on the rising conservative tide.
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TAS: And the last time I looked the number of people who self-identify as conservative exceeds the number who self-identify as Republicans.
JD: Right. And that gap has grown. Nothing has changed about the conservatives. But I think a lot of them thought the Republicans had abandoned their principles. We have a real opportunity this election if we put candidates out front that people can believe in. We’re looking for real change you can believe in. Now we’ve got change you can’t believe.
TAS: Does Marco Rubio qualify as a candidate conservative Republicans can believe in?
JD: Yes. He’s very genuine. He’s not just throwing red meat at a bunch of conservatives. He has a heart-felt message that’s inspiring. You just don’t see that in politics much anymore. There are a lot of one-liners and applause lines out there. But that’s not what Marco’s doing. He’s reminding people of America’s greatness, what a privilege it is in America to start with nothing but to be able to work and make something of yourself. I’ve seen him speak before folks who’ve been involved in the political process for a long time and he has them standing on their feet before he leaves. He appears to be the real deal.
I’m really encouraged because we have some new Republicans on the national stage like Marco Rubio who completely dispel a lot of stereotypes about Republicans. He’s not just an old white guy, or an old mean guy. He’s of Cuban descent. He’s young, well-spoken, and very sincere. He’s not just using political jargon. He’s talking American principles, and he’s connecting them to current issues. If we can find a few more candidates like this we can change the image of the party. And we can change its substance as well. It doesn’t take but a few pushing the right way to get the whole Senate to go right.
TAS: Two thousand ten looks good for the Republican Party and for conservatives. Is it too early to talk about 2012? It’s less than two years to the Iowa caucus. Who’ll be the conservative champion then?
JD: I believe as soon as this election is over in November we’ll probably know who our potential candidates are. I think a lot of them will come out and campaign for various candidates and give us some idea of what they are for and what they’re against.
TAS: Are you going to be in that mix?
JD: I don’t think so. I hope I can be part of helping to find somebody who can really change things. It’s going to be hard because we need someone who will tell Americans the truth. The truth is we can’t make any more promises that the federal government is going to do more for us. It will take a very talented person to say that the federal government has to do less rather than more. That’s not too far from the Churchill promise of nothing more than blood, sweat, and tears. It doesn’t have to sound that harsh, but the fact is we’re going to have to sacrifice to pull ourselves away from where we are. And I’m starting to think that Americans are ready for that now.
TAS: President Obama’s numbers keep dropping, both for him personally and for his policies. That’s good news for Republicans. But you can’t beat somebody with nobody. Do you expect somebody we haven’t even been thinking about to pop out of the woodwork to go with the names we already know?
JD: Possibly so. They’re some good names out there. Among others there’s Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who has demonstrated he can make tough decisions at the state level and manage a state in very difficult times. He certainly knows the national scene. And people like that who might not be as dynamic, but who might be much better candidates in 2012 because I think Americans are saying we tried dynamic and it hasn’t worked. Could we try boring? I think Americans are looking for a grownup who has proven he can manage things. You can’t lead with rhetoric, and that’s what we see being tried now in Washington. So we may see a different kind of candidate this time.
I think people will be looking outside of Washington. There are some bright House members like Mike Pence and others who have come up with good proposals. But I think there will be a lot of attention on governors who’ve been able to manage things. Young might not be good next time. We might be looking for some gray hair. We need to pull our party back to the main-stream, where America is, because our party has drifted way to the left. There’s nothing moderate about spending the country into oblivion. Being conservative is just remembering the things that work. The things that got us where we were as a nation, and which can take us back if we’ll let them. There’s nothing radical or far-right about that. We’re the mainstream. We embrace what a broad majority of Americans believe in and care about.
DeMint hit the same themes Saturday night before a very receptive dinner crowd of about 350 in Tampa. He beat up on what he calls a “radicalized” Washington Democratic Party for trying to expand government into every area of our lives. “This is what unrestrained Democratic Control looks like,” he said. But he also scalded Republicans in Congress who seem more interested in bringing home the bacon for their states or districts than in standing up for conservative principles.
“I didn’t go to Washington to make friends, and I haven’t been disappointed,” joked DeMint, who sometimes finds himself cross-wise with the Republican establishment. But he may soon be having more friends at work if he has correctly read the electorate’s mood this year. He says Americans appear ready to take their country back
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