The heavy hand of a freshman senator named Ted Cruz on the tiller of the U..S. House of Representatives has justifiably drawn a lot of attention the last couple of weeks. But before Cruz was in the Senate, and helping guide him today, is another man once largely dismissed as a lonely crank but who is now walking tall across the political landscape: Jim DeMint.

Today’s must-read is Shane Goldmacher’s National Journal piece on the “DeMint Diaspora,” the network of pols and staffers in Congress that owe their jobs or their high positions to the extremist from Secession Country who now runs the Heritage Foundation and played a huge role in the “defunding Obamacare” crusade that got us into our current national fix.

“DeMint has left a legacy on the Hill that is full of ripple effects – and they’re good ones,” said Chris Chocola, the president of the Club for Growth, which has spent millions in GOP primaries to elect unbending conservatives. “He broke the mold and showed what could happen and he inspired others to follow.”

That includes Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who said this spring, “I would not be in the United States Senate were it not for Senator Jim DeMint.” So when Cruz set out to build his Capitol staff, he dipped heavily into the DeMint alumni network, hiring five of DeMint’s former aides. Among them is Amanda Carpenter, his chief speechwriter, who helped prepare Cruz for his marathon anti-Obamacare speech. The others are Jeff Murray, Alexander Aramanda, Caitlin Thompson, and Samantha Leahy.

Cruz’s chief Senate ally in the defunding fight has been Republican Mike Lee of Utah, another DeMint protégé. DeMint endorsed Lee in a video message that aired during the heated 2010 GOP convention where Lee emerged as the insurgent nominee. “Please send Mike Lee to the Senate so he can join me in the fight for our future,” DeMint told the delegates.

These days Lee’s legislative director, Wendy Baig, is a DeMint veteran, as is his deputy chief of staff Michael Connolly (who also did a tour at the Club for Growth).

Outside the Capitol, some of the loudest cheering for the defunding push has come from the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee that DeMint founded. The group has aired anti-Obamacare ads featuring Cruz and Lee, gathered the signatures of 1.9 million Americans, and raised $1.5 million in August alone. Its executive director, Matt Hoskins, cut his political teeth as DeMint’s chief of staff.

They’ve been joined in the battle by Heritage Action, the foundation’s sister advocacy arm, which spent $550,000 on web ads targeting 100 wobbling Republicans this summer and has threatened to include votes to keep the government open and the health care law in place on its influential scorecard. One of DeMint’s former aides, Tim Chapman, is the chief operating officer of Heritage Action.

There’s more, but you get the idea.

Back in 2009, when the extent of the rightward lurch of both the conservative movement and the GOP was just becoming apparent, I took a look at an interview DeMint gave to Human Events in connection with the publication of his book, Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America’s Slide Into Socialism. Here’s some of what DeMint had to say:

I regret to say that there are two Americas but not the kind John Edwards was talking about. It’s not so much the haves and the have-nots. It’s those who are paying for government and those who are getting government. At this point, the data I’ve seen is 52% of Americans get their income directly or indirectly from a government source. And if you think about how that works in a democracy, why would the voters be concerned about the growth of government if they weren’t paying and they were getting something from it.

Democracy cannot work when you have a majority of people dependent on the government. And this is not just the poor. The way we’ve set up Social Security and Medicare, everyone who retires are dependent, parents are dependent on the government for education of their children and now, if you look at the folks who come through my office — business people, farmers, bankers — everybody is coming to Washington to get their piece of the government because we’re running all this money through here now.

You will note it’s 52%, not just 47%, of Americans who have succumbed to socialism, and that Social Security, Medicare, and public education (or as people like DeMint are now wont to call it, “government schools”) are the chains of their slavery.

At the time, I rather naively commented:

It’s not often that you hear a politician come right out and say that making parents “dependent on the government for education of their children”–i.e. public schools–is a form of socialistic welfare-statism. As for Social Security and Medicare, most conservatives have learned to frame their privatization proposals in terms of “solvency” or “entitlement reform” or “letting people control their benefits.” Not since Barry Goldwater’s disastrous 1964 campaign have I heard a major Republican politician attack the wildly popular retirement programs as fundamentally illegitimate, or their beneficiaries as parasitical wards of the state.

That’s probably the first time it occurred to me that the conservative movement–rechristened as the Tea Party Movement–was bent on refighting the 1964 presidential campaign and winning this time. But I didn’t realize how common DeMint’s perspective was about to become.

And now he’s a big-time conventional power-broker, with acolytes becoming power-brokers themselves. But it’s important to understand that whatever these people are saying at any particular time, the bright shining inspiration of their political lives remains 1964 and the Goldwater campaign to roll back the New Deal and stop the Great Society. They may be chanting “Defund Obamacare!” but if you listen, you can hear the old Citizens for Goldwater
cry of “Viva Ole!”

UPDATE: I somehow missed Josh Green’s fine piece at Business Week last week examining DeMint’s role in the “Defund Obamacare” campaign. Check it out.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.