WASHINGTON -- Jim DeMint is back in a familiar role challenging other Republicans to put conservative principles over political costs, and not particularly caring how many friends or allies he offends along the way.
Three years after he helped lead the unsuccessful fight to defeat what he and other foes branded Obamacare, DeMint is returning to the fray.
Now, though, the South Carolinian is waging his battle not as a United States senator, but as head of the most influential conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Joined by Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican whom DeMint helped get elected by funneling money from his Senate Conservatives Fund, DeMint is on a nationwide Defund Obamacare Tour to gin up support for a bid in Congress to withhold funding to implement the landmark health-insurance law.
DeMint and Cruz are demanding that other Republican lawmakers try to block funding to implement Obamacare by providing no money for it in appropriations bills for the 2014 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 and by withholding funding as a condition for agreeing to raise the federal debt ceiling later in the fall.
No one I know wants to shut down the government, DeMint told McClatchy on Saturday. "All were talking about is withholding money that would be spent on implementing Obamacare. The law is unaffordable, unworkable, unfair and unpopular.
But with Democrats holding a Senate majority and President Barack Obama in the White House, any effort to defund the presidents signature legislative initiative risks sparking a government shutdown or a federal debt default.
Despite polls showing that most Americans and even a majority of Republicans oppose shutting down the government over Obamacare, DeMint said GOP members of Congress should do whats right, not whats expedient.
They should vote according to their principles, rather than out of a political calculus, DeMint said. Adopting such a high-minded approach would, incidentally, help them politically too. Americans will reward leadership and courage.
In Fayetteville, Ark., where DeMint and Cruz last week kicked off the tour that will take them to nine cities by Thursday, DeMint said: Im not interested in the political futures of folks who think they might lose a showdown with the president.
Chiding Republicans who fear a confrontation with Obama, DeMint told National Public Radio: I think he knows that Republicans are afraid. And if they are, they need to be replaced.
While Republicans were united in voting against Obamacare when Congress passed it in 2010, the drive to block funding for the laws implementation is splitting the party, with some prominent GOP leaders and conservative commentators opposing the strategy.
Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina branded the initiative the dumbest idea Ive ever heard, and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer sneered, This is nuts.
The tactic has even divided the Republican senators DeMint helped gain election in 2010 and 2012 with huge financial support from his Senate Conservatives Fund, with which DeMint severed ties last year before leaving the Senate to take the Heritage helm.
Among the Senates DeMint acolytes, Cruz, Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida back the drive to defund Obamacare, while Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin oppose it.