As flagged earlier on the indispensible Reason 24/7, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), one of the most influential fiscal conservatives in the U.S. Senate, is exiting his final term two four years early to become president of the Heritage Foundation. From the Wall Street Journal write-up:
In an interview preceding the succession announcement, Sen. DeMint said he is taking the Heritage job because he sees it as a vehicle to popularize conservative ideas in a way that connects with a broader public. "This is an urgent time," the senator said, "because we saw in the last election we were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections." Mr. DeMint, who was a market researcher before he entered politics, said he plans to take the Heritage Foundation's traditional research plus that of think tanks at the state level and "translate those policy papers into real-life demonstrations of things that work." He said, "We want to figure out what works at the local and state level" and give those models national attention.
Mr. DeMint, an active conservative partisan often at odds with his party's leadership, says he will "protect the integrity of Heritage's research and not politicize the policy component. Heritage is not just another grassroots political group."
DeMint, a strong social con who said after the Tea Partytastic 2010 mid-terms that "you can't be a fiscal conservative unless you're also a social conservative," would seem a natural fit to a GOP-tethered, $80 million think tank whose current president celebrated those mid-terms by warning incoming Republican freshmen not to even think about cutting military spending. But as captured by this January Reason interview with Nick Gillespie and I, DeMint has been moving in a more libertarian-friendly direction. Excerpt:
reason: The defense budget is 20 percent of all government spending and has increased about 100 percent since 2000. How much of the defense budget can be cut without hurting American preparedness or the ability to protect American lives?
DeMint: I'm not sure what that number is. But I do know there's waste in Pentagon spending. We've identified waste not only in the Pentagon but all across the board....But we have to have a vision for what we want our military to do. And that's why in the last couple of weeks, I've said I want whoever our nominee is in the Republican Party to listen to some of the things Rep. Ron Paul [R-Texas] is saying. [...]
We do need to rethink the money we spend on military and defense. I think Ron Paul does make a good distinction: There's a difference between spending on military and spending for defense.
The primary function of the federal government is to defend our country. We need to make sure that we have the technology, the intelligence, the equipment to defend America from a lot of new threats. And if that is not doable with bases all over the world, we need to rethink how spread out we actually are. We have to demand that our allies actually pay a greater proportion of their defense. We're still in Germany; we were there after World War II. We're in South Korea. We're in a lot of places. We may need to be in some of those places for deployment and protection. But I think it's fair to say let's rethink that and make sure we're spending money in the right places.