Note that DeMint leaves himself a little wiggle room. When asked why, he says, “As we get into next year, if we have two at the top and one is clearly the conservative and one’s not . . . I might look at it again. But my commitment right now is to stay out of it.”

The reason he is staying out, DeMint says, is that “I’ve got to keep my focus on electing conservatives to the Senate who are going to come in here and help us change the spending culture and help our new president turn the country around.” The tipping point for DeMint came last week, when he watched 32 of his Republican colleagues vote with Democrats to kill an amendment offered by Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to cut $1 billion from the Rural Development Agency, while 11 Republicans voted with Democrats against eliminating a paltry $6 million in funding for the Small Community Air Service Development Program.“I’ve realized over the last week, as I’ve seen how some of the votes were cast in the Senate, [that] we had some Republicans who were going to resist any cuts in programs.”

The lesson, DeMint says, is that while conservatives have made progress in the senate, “We’re not there yet. We just need some more numbers.” He believes his role in 2012 is to unite conservatives behind the right candidates in critical Senate races.