Jul 20, 2011

Two years that changed America, Washington, and me

Guest Column by Senator Jim DeMint,

If conservatives want to continue our successes in 2012, it is essential we understand why we were so successful in 2010.

The 2006 and 2008 elections were disastrous for Republicans. When Republicans controlled Washington, spending and earmarks exploded. Democrats were more than happy to help us expand federal control of health care and education, increase the national debt exponentially and ignore our job-killing tax code.

We didn't keep our promises to reform Medicare, Social Security or reduce the size of the federal government. You could accuse the Republican majority of many things, but certainly not of being too conservative!

When I expressed my disappointment and frustration with the way Republicans in the Senate were doing business, one senior member of my party's leadership told me, "Jim, you can't change the Senate."

That's when I realized the people in the Senate were not going to change, and it was time to change the people serving in the Senate.

"The Great American Awakening: Two years that changed America, Washington, and Me" is a behind-the-scenes look at what was happening in Washington as Americans took to the streets all around the nation to protest spending and debt.

I also share my personal battle for freedom in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections. By working outside of traditional party structures and directly with grassroots activists, engaged Americans made my Senate Conservatives Fund the No. 1 political action committee in the 2010 cycle.

Unlike most other campaign funds, SCF only supports rock-ribbed conservative candidates, even in primary races against other incumbent Republicans.

I knew it would be very controversial for a sitting member of the U.S. Senate to oppose another member of his own party, but I could no longer quietly serve with Republicans who seem to have no commitment to anything except their own re-election campaigns.

That's why I've said, much to the chagrin of some of my colleagues, "I'd rather have 30 Republicans who believe in the principles of freedom than 60 who believe in nothing at all."

I wasn't the only one who was fed up. In the late winter and spring of 2009, spontaneous Tea Parties began springing about all over the country. Thousands of Americans flooded town hall meetings to express their frustration with politics as usual.

As I waded through Tea Parties that began springing up in early 2009, people told me three things that I continue to hear today. "Thanks for fighting," "We're praying for you," and "What can I do?"

These events were not partisan; Republicans, Democrats, independents and many people who have never been involved in politics before attended. But, they all felt it was time to "throw the bums out." I couldn't have agreed more.

That summer SCF made its first endorsement for former Rep. Pat Toomey against incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter. The response from the grassroots was overwhelmingly positive, confirming my belief that Americans would support conservative candidates if they could find them.

The SCF later went on to endorse former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio when he was down more than 20 points in the polls against Gov. Charlie Crist.

Rand Paul was SCF's preferred candidate in the Kentucky Republican primary, even though the entire Washington establishment was behind another candidate.

In Utah, SCF helped Mike Lee replace incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Bennett. And, when the political newcomer Ron Johnson announced his candidacy against Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, SCF quickly endorsed him.

At nearly every step in this journey, fellow Republicans made derisive comments about our strategy. But, I am happy to report that today I serve in the U.S. Senate with Sens. Toomey, Rubio, Paul, Lee and Johnson.

Today those new senators are doing much of the heavy lifting when it comes to entitlement reform, proposing spending cuts, repealing Obamacare and ensuring our national security.

An American Awakening had taken place that shook Washington to its core. Reckless spending set off alarms that stirred Americans from complacency and apathy. Now, with the hardest work still ahead of us, I hope we don't hit the "snooze" button and go back to sleep.

The 2012 election may be our last chance to rescue America from disaster. There's no time left for equivocation. The cynics will always say Republicans must moderate and compromise their principles to win.

Not true. Now, more than ever, the country needs candidates who will relentlessly and passionately fight to defeat the crushing debt that threatens the country's future.

If they have the courage to do this they will find, as they did in the 2010 elections, that a groundswell of Americans stand at the ready to support them.

Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina is a conservative voice in the U.S. Senate and supporter of the Tea Party movement.

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