An Interview With Jim DeMint About The Future of The Republican Party

Late last week, I was pleased to have an opportunity to once again interview Senator Jim DeMint (Previous interviews here and here, on the bailout crisis).

What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our phone conversation.

The GOP has taken a tremendous beating, two elections in a row now, and I hate to say this, but I am not seeing a lot of signs in DC that any lessons have been learned from it. Now you’ve spent some time behind-the-scenes with your fellow Republicans in DC since the election and I’d like to get a sense of what most of them think the GOP needs to do to get prepared for 2010.

Well, it’s a mixed bag right now because I think some of my Republican colleagues are still in denial and want to blame Bush for all our problems. There are some that know we need to take a stronger role as Republicans in the House and the Senate to communicate principles and actually do the things that we say.

I think we….do have an opportunity as Republicans, in the House and in the Senate, to carry a stronger message. My hope is now that we have the contrast of an Obama administration, that our ideas are going to be clearer and it’s going to be easier to see the differences than it has been with a Bush administration that was often moving in the wrong direction.

…There has been some debate back and forth about this subject. Do you think the Republican Party can win if the important people in the conservative media, people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Thomas Sowell, etc., are telling their audiences that the Republican Party is doing a terrible job? Can we win without those people on board?

…I think it’s going to be tough. I think we need some who are in the middle and we need the mainstream media to begin picking up on some of the things we’re doing that are bold and different. So, we need to put the pieces together to win. It’s not any one thing, but we can’t afford to have conservative messengers out all across the country saying that Republican office holders do not act like Republicans.

The key there is not to let just a few people define us. We need to show that there are a lot of people — and I think you are going to see more and more from the House — standing up, carrying the right message. We have some new leadership on the House side, several good conservatives, good communicators.

My hope is that we’re going to do what we did back in 1994. We’re going to begin to build a new leadership team and carry a message that inspires the American people.

Now, there are some people who believe we need to purge certain parts of the Republican Party — say, moderates or social conservatives. Is that something we should consider?

….No, I think a lot of Republicans we call moderates believe in the same principles we do, but their constituencies are a little different and sometimes the way our policies are presented by Republicans who are conservative like me are seen as “single issue” or things that don’t relate to their part of the country.

What we do need to do is recruit the best candidates we can for positions. We need to equip our candidates with the core principles of the Republican Party that they can translate for their constituents in a way that inspires them.

So, I am not trying to divide the party between moderates and conservatives. But, …those of us who believe in these core principles do need to talk to our colleagues, talk to a national audience, and show some of the folks here who are not voting like I am that these are winning ideas. If we take them boldly to the American people, they will send us back to office.

Now, some other people say that the message the voters have sent in these last two elections is that they’re tired of conservatism — that it just doesn’t sell anymore. What do you think about that?

Well, Barack Obama ran on giving 95% of Americans a tax cut, he ran on cutting wasteful spending, and he has said he will cut earmarks. He has talked about energy independence for America and even a strong military. He knows where the hearts and minds of the American people are. A lot of Republicans didn’t run on those ideas, but they are our ideas. Now, I am not so naive as to think he is going to govern in a way that we’d like, but he knew how to win an election — on the core values of the American people, things they already believe.

We just need to make sure that as Republicans, we’re not seen as one issue candidates — that we are just social conservatives and that we don’t care about jobs or we don’t care about the poor. What we need to do is to show that the best way to help the poor is to make freedom work from coast-to-coast in America, to create a good business environment, and to make sure we have a good economy. I think we can show people that government is not the answer, but freedom is the answer.

Now, one last question: one thing we’ve heard a lot since the last election is that the Republican Party should move to the middle — that it should maybe fudge on these conservative principles, throw them under the bus, and move to the middle to try to get more voters. What do you think about that idea?

I don’t think trying to technically figure out where we need to be in order to win votes is going to make us a strong party. What we need to understand is that there are some core principles and values that made our country the greatest country in the world. It does get back to limited government, personal responsibility, capitalism, and a strong faith based society. We should build from those principles that not only make our government work, but our whole society. Translate that into bold ideas that get people excited today. …That’s how we get the Hispanic vote, minorities, women — if we think all we have to do is vote for this bill and we’re going to get this group and then vote another way and get another group, that’s what we’ve been doing the last 10 years and it hasn’t worked (laughs).

That’s it. I really appreciate your time.

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