Conservative operatives and Capitol Hill staffers say a Fab Five will lead conservatives in the Senate next year if Rep. Jeff Flake wins as expected in the race for Arizona's open seat and Ted Cruz defeats Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Tuesday in the Republican primary runoff in Texas.
Jim DeMint, Rand Paul and Mike Lee today comprise a posse of Senate stalwarts staking out the right end of the chamber's GOP conference. They are defined by fiscal and social conservatism, and also an emphasis on the Constitution's limits on federal power.
Lee, who served as a law clerk to Sam Alito before Alito was on the Supreme Court, is described by conservative Hill staffers as "a constitutional ninja." His stump speech is a lecture on the constitutional doctrine of "original understanding" and the Commerce Clause. On Capitol Hill, where both parties wave the Constitution when it is useful and trample it when it's not, Lee is a bit of buzzkill, pointing out that Congress doesn't have plenary powers, only those enumerated in Article I, Section 8.
Paul is the closest thing to a libertarian in the upper chamber. He's steadfast against taxes, spending and regulations, but also against the military overreach and civil-liberties abuses that have marked the last two administrations.
South Carolina conservative DeMint, meanwhile, is the ringleader of the stalwarts. He embodies two of the group's defining characteristics: a reformer's streak and an anti-establishment sensibility.
DeMint, along with budget-hawk Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has pushed his party to reject earmarks. DeMint has also tried to put some teeth in the GOP's rhetorical war on crony capitalism, leading the effort to kill the Export-Import Bank and sponsoring an amendment to end all tax credits for the energy industry.
DeMint has also made enemies - and friends - by openly bucking the party establishment on the Senate floor and on the campaign trail. He launched the Senate Conservatives Fund, which in 2010 bankrolled the insurgent primary campaigns of Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Marco Rubio in Florida, and Paul in Kentucky, while the GOP establishment was backing Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and Trey Grayson, respectively.
Freshmen Toomey and Rubio, like Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, are conservatives who often buck the party leadership. But DeMint, Lee and Paul stand out as the stalwarts at the right end of the party.
Flake has shown in the House that he'll take a leadership role on the Right in the Senate. So will Cruz, Lee and his staff tell me. Other conservatives say the same.
"He'll slide in right next to Rand Paul and Mike Lee, and the other guys, and fight for what we believe in," Andy Roth, vice president for the Club for Growth told me. The Club has been the leader in bankrolling the conservative insurgent Tea Party candidates against the establishment and K Street-backed Republicans in primaries.
FreedomWorks Political Action Committee provides the third pool of money combating K Street and the Chamber of Commerce within the GOP. FreedomWorks PAC executive director Max Pappas agrees that Cruz should be mentioned in the same breath with Lee, Paul, DeMint, and Flake. "No doubt about it," Pappas said Friday.
A former clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Cruz has a laser focus on the Constitution. As solicitor general of Texas, he led a coalition of states arguing that the 2nd Amendment secures an individual's right to bear arms.
Pappas talks of Cruz's intellectual formation. In high school, Cruz won essay competitions from free-market organizations, and then went on speaking tours preaching libertarian philosopher F.A. Hayek to fellow high-schoolers.
According to Pappas, Cruz and some cohorts, as youngsters, came up with a mnemonic device to memorize the entire Constitution.
While Cruz is backed by the likes of DeMint, Paul, Lee, FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, Dewhurst has the heavy backing of the lobbyists on K Street and in Austin.
George Will, in a column last week, said the difference between Cruz and Dewhurst would be that Cruz would join the "Doesn't-Play-Well-With-Others Caucus."
When bipartisan majorities have given us ill-considered wars, unstable financial systems, shameless bailouts and profligate fiscal policy, "playing well" is hardly a virtue.
"We're never going to get the change that we're seeking," Pappas told me, "if we keep electing the go-along-to-get-along crowd."
The Senate stalwarts today are a clique of three. Flake would make four. Texas Republicans on Tuesday could help form a Fab Five.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.