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December 10, 2012

Lugar says DeMint building new power base

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The surprise resignation of ultra-conservative U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, was seen by some as an indicator of the weakening power of the tea party movement.

But Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, who lost a bid for another term last May, doesn’t see it that way.

DeMint’s decision to abandon his post to head the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation is an indicator of the growing influence of outside pressure groups on the inside workings of the legislative branch, Lugar said.

DeMint, said Lugar, can wield a big stick as the head of an organization that can muster up millions of campaign dollars for candidates who support the ultra-conservative causes that DeMint has championed.

A self-proclaimed warrior in the “battle of ideas,” DeMint, the founder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, has been an uncompromising foe of compromise.

He opposes immigration reforms that would create a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and he’s wanted no ground yielded to President Barack Obama on the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

The 80-year-old Lugar was vilified during his losing primary race for embracing both immigration reform and the virtues of compromise on budget and other issues.

Lugar said DeMint envisions himself as the next Grover Norquist. As head of the influential Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist has pressured scores of legislators into taking a pledge to never, ever raise taxes under any circumstances.

Norquist, said Lugar, uses his organization to mobilize forces against anyone who even thinks about defying the pledge.

“Grover is able to call into play tens of millions of dollars to crucify anybody that crosses the line,” Lugar said. “So, in essence, Jim DeMint is saying: ‘Now I’m going to play that game.’”

It’s a game Lugar thinks will end badly.

He blames Washington’s inability to act to avert the double-whammy of tax hikes and spending cuts that will come next month unless there’s some compromise in Congress, on Norquist and like-minded no-compromisers. 

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Details for this story were provided by Maureen Hayden, statehouse bureau in Indianapolis.

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