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Interview with Senator Jim DeMint

Interview with Senator Jim DeMint

By John King, USA - January 17, 2012

KING: We're live in South Carolina tonight.

And this is the home state of a man who's become an inspiration to Tea Party activists from coast to coast. Even though some consider U.S. Senator Jim DeMint a kingmaker, among conservatives vying for elected office, he's not endorsing anyone ahead of his state's crucial presidential primary.

But Senator DeMint hardly sitting on the sidelines. He has just published a new book just this month, "Now or Never: Saving America From Economic Collapse."

Senator DeMint joining us from his home base of Greenville tonight.

Senator, after the debate last night, a lot of the Republican rivals criticized Governor Romney's record as the CEO of Bain Capital, suggesting -- my words, not theirs -- that he was heartless, taking money out of companies, causing people to lose their jobs.

Walking out, you told our political reporter Peter Hamby -- quote -- "This Bain stuff is a crock."

Why is it a crock? Is it not fair to question Governor Romney's record?

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, yes, it's fair to question.

And Governor Romney and all Republicans need to learn how to defend free enterprise. Any difficult business decision could look heartless. I know I was a businessman for years, and I stayed up countless nights worrying about having to let one person go. It's a terrible thing to do.

But it's not nearly as bad as when the government's trying to run our economy. We see that with Solyndra and other money that we're giving away. So, Republicans need to help Americans understand that one of the reasons for our prosperity is that we have a free enterprise system that sometimes is difficult and painful, but, frankly, we need more business leaders who have made painful decisions in Washington, because we don't seem to be able to make any.

KING: As you know, some of these Republican rivals -- and we already hear it from the Democratic National Committee and the Obama campaign -- part of these attacks on Governor Romney is to say, here's a wealthy guy. He doesn't understand blue-collar South Carolinians or blue-collar Americans all across the country.

The governor's been under some pressure to release his income taxes. Today, he said he would do that soon. He says he pays a rate of about 18 percent.

And in discussing his income, one of the things he said, Senator, listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: And then I get speaker's fees from time to time, but not very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: "Speaker's fees from time to time, but not very much," emphasis on "not very much."

If you look at Governor Romney's financial disclosure form which he filed, in the last year that form covers, he made more than $374,000 in speaking fees in just that one year.

Is an average South Carolinian going to have a problem, Senator, with a man who made $374,000 in speaking fees and then describes that as not very much?

DEMINT: Well, I think the average South Carolinian would like to make that much. And that's how our systems works, is all of us aspire to do better.

I don't know how many South Carolinians will resent that. I guess we will have to find out on Saturday. But I think, for the most part, South Carolinians are willing to stand on their own and work hard. And we don't generally want to take from what other people are making.

KING: We talked a lot in the early months of this campaign. Tea Party activists in your state, Tea Party activists all around the country, many of them, Senator, were hoping you would join the race for president. You decided not to do that.

Now you have decided not to endorse as your state's big primary approaches on Saturday. Some people look at Governor Romney, and they look at his record, they say he's an established politician, but they don't view him as a Tea Party darling. And some people say if he wins South Carolina and he's the de facto nominee of the Republican Party, one conclusion from that will be that the Tea Party fizzled, that it didn't have much influence this cycle.

Is that fair?

DEMINT: No, it's not.

I have got a lot of Tea Party supporters, and they seem to be equally split among all of these candidates. There are a number of them supporting Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Ron Paul.

I think people are confused about what the Tea Party is. I mean, they were a broad cross-section of Americans who came together concerned about our debt and our spending. And they're interested in constitutional, limited government. And so they're not one group of people. They're thousands of small groups all over the country.

No one can speak for them. And I certainly can't either. But I see the ones that I have worked with here and around the country pretty well divided because they see things they like and they don't like about all of the candidates. I don't think anyone would say we have got a perfect candidate in this race.

But we have got some good ones that would do a heck of a lot better than what we have got in the White House right now.

KING: Well, it's a fascinating race in your home state right now, Senator, could decide who the Republican nominee is.

We appreciate your time tonight, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. We will see you in a few days, sir.

DEMINT: Thank you, John.

KING: And if you look up -- thank you. 

John King, USA

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