By Kevin Rogers
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, 13 dwarves face exile from their homeland of Erebor, the dwarves’ greatest kingdom, at the claws of the gold-hungry dragon Smaug.
Luckily, they have a leader in Thorin Oakenshield, heir to dwarvish royalty.
Conservative senators don’t have a dragon problem, but they face the challenges of unpopular public image, conflict with establishment Republicans and electoral thrashings. Their Thorin, former Sen. Jim DeMint, left to lead the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
This leaves the 12 most-conservative senators (based on Heritage Foundation rankings) leaderless in their quest to appeal to more Americans. Instead of seeking gold and homeland, they fight for the political survival of their ideology.
The Nerds of Congress now presents the 12 senators of “DeMint’s Company” and their dwarvish counterparts.
DeMint led the conservative faction of the Senate. He aided the election of many senators on this list through his Senate Conservatives Fund, a leadership PAC dedicated to the goal of electing conservative candidates. Like Thorin, his ultimate goals sometimes conflicted with his better judgment, as DeMint backed several candidates doomed to fail.
Fili is Thorin’s nephew and heir. Likewise, Rubio seems poised for leadership. One of the most conservative senators, a poll of Republican insiders found him leading as the party’s best hope for president in 2016.
Kili is Thorin’s younger nephew. Paul seems to harbor presidential ambition but lacks the popular support of Rubio. Nonetheless, he has similar conservative credentials and support from DeMint.
Brothers Balin and Dwalin have clashing roles in Thorin’s company. Balin has a reserved and doubtful demeanor, but Dwalin, fiercely loyal to Thorin, can be hardheaded.
Hatch, more thoughtful and experienced than his younger colleagues, knocked heads with DeMint, criticizing his campaign tactics against other Republicans.
On the other hand, Lee matched DeMint’s Heritage rank of 99, the highest awarded to any senator. One insider called Lee “the new Jim DeMint.”
Oin and Gloin bring wealth to Thorin’s Company. Appropriately, Risch and Johnson ranked among the wealthiest members of Congress in 2012. Johnson, like Gloin, tends to be brash and combative, evidenced by an exchange with Hillary Clinton.
Freshman senators represent the trio of dwarf brothers. Flake served 10 years in the House, making him a fine representative of the seasoned Dori.
Cruz earned degrees at Princeton and Harvard and served as a clerk to the Supreme Court; he’s the ideal Ori-like scholar.
Coburn, an experienced senator, serves as the ideal candidate for the grizzled warrior Bifur. Toomey, inoffensive and respected, makes a fine counterpart for the amiable Bofur. Scott, the lone African-American Republican in the Senate, rounds out this company of Senate conservatives as the good-natured Bombur.
The Company Goes Forward
Though DeMint should play a supporting role from his perch at Heritage, the question remains if this group can rally around a new leader. While Rubio looks set for leadership beyond the Senate, it remains unclear if the remaining conservatives can rally around a leader with DeMint’s influence.
Even more challenging will be making conservatism appealing to a wider audience in the current political climate.
With such odds, the prospects of facing down Smaug the Golden seem far less daunting.