Vote on debt ceiling could push DeMint to back incumbent primary challengers

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) might back primary challengers to incumbent Republican senators after all.

DeMint had promised after last year’s election that he would not endorse any opponents to his fellow GOP lawmakers in the 2012 cycle. But now he is angry enough with the debt-ceiling compromise that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump: Republicans 'look like fools' if they don't kill Senate filibuster Pelosi opens door to working with GOP on healthcare Bipartisan health group efforts suddenly springing up MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner on Trump tweets: He gets 'into a pissing match with a skunk' every day Boehner predicts GOP will 'never' repeal, replace ObamaCare Sudan sanctions spur intense lobbying MORE (R-Ohio) struck with President Obama that he might back serious challengers to Republican senators who support the plan, according to a source close to the senator.

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“He’s already opened the door to changing that policy in terms of supporting people in primaries — this deal could bring him to the point where he says he’s not going to make any guarantees,” said the source, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of intraparty relations. “It’s not a threat that he’s going to oppose anybody, but ... if he does, nobody should be surprised.”

DeMint, whose Senate Conservatives Fund helped finance several right-wing Republican candidates last election, angered Republican leaders when he backed a handful of conservative challengers to candidates backed by the establishment.

He supported Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulMcCain returning to Arizona to start cancer treatment Monday Paul blocks McConnell from setting up defense bill vote Overnight Defense: Military won't lift transgender ban until Trump sends directions | House passes national security spending | Russian sanctions bill heads to Trump MORE (R-Ky.) over McConnell’s favored candidate in Kentucky and helped give Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioEx-Cruz aide: Trump presidency 'is effectively over' Mexican politicians have a new piñata: Donald Trump Bush ethics lawyer: Congress must tell Trump not to fire Mueller MORE (R-Fla.) an early boost in his primary against then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I).

After the 2010 elections, DeMint promised his colleagues he would not endorse any primary candidates, but the debate over raising the debt ceiling has changed his mind. DeMint said in mid-June at the Republican Leadership Conference that “if we have folks who go the wrong way on [the debt-ceiling vote], it’s going to be pretty hard for me to sit still” and stay out of primaries. 

The new deal does not pass muster with him, which should worry some of his fellow senators. The Senate Conservatives Fund spent $8.2 million on its preferred candidates last election cycle, and DeMint has said he hopes to raise and spend $15 million this time around.

He has already endorsed two Republicans in possibly competitive Senate primaries next year: Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel and former Texas Solicitor General Ted CruzTed CruzThe Memo: GOP in shock over White House drama Five takeaways from ObamaCare repeal’s collapse Conservative House leader urges GOP to not give up on ObamaCare repeal MORE.

Republican senators who could face competitive primary challenges from the right include Sens. Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Orrin HatchOrrin HatchRyan drops border-tax proposal as GOP unifies around principles Trump triggers storm with transgender ban Kerry on Trump’s military transgender ban: ‘We’re better than this’ MORE (Utah). Other incumbents, including Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Bob CorkerBob CorkerUS, South Korea talk military options following North Korea missile test Senate sends Russia sanctions bill to Trump's desk GOP senators: House agreeing to go to conference on ObamaCare repeal MORE (Tenn.), have angered conservatives at times, but a credible candidate has not emerged to challenge either of them.