Sen. Jim DeMint's surprise announcement that he is leaving the Senate to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has cast a shadow over the future of the Tea Party movement — which the South Carolina Republican has for years helped to lead. DeMint's departure also comes after a rough November election in which some of the Tea Party's most vocal lawmakers lost re-election bids. Will this be yet another significant setback for small-government, anti-tax activists?

This weakens the Tea Party considerably: "DeMint's resignation comes at a tough time for the Tea Party," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. The movement's leaders concede they're "going through a period of self-evaluation and analysis about what it is and what it can be," and now their potential could be diminished. The disappearance of Tea Party icons like DeMint and Reps. Allen West (Fla.) and Joe Walsh (Ill.) — who just lost re-election bids — may rob Tea Partiers "of genuine influence within official Washington."
"Winners and losers from the Jim DeMint resignation"

DeMint's Heritage job gives Tea Partiers more power than ever: DeMint's new gig could give the Tea Party an even stronger hold on the GOP, says Julie Bykowicz at Bloomberg News. The Heritage Foundation "has served as an incubator for the party's policy and legislative ideas for decades." Now that DeMint's in charge there, he'll be able to shape tomorrow's GOP just like he did today's, as the "conservative kingmaker" who helped insurgents like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz oust mainstream GOP favorites. 
"Tea Party gains control over Republican policy incubators"

The Tea Party is now in the hands of DeMint's proteges: DeMint is "not indispensable," says Erick Erickson at Red State. "But his ideas are." DeMint inspired and helped elect a wave of like-minded candidates — Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Rubio, Cruz, and more. If these new senators "stretch their legs and prove they are Jim DeMint's ideological heirs," the Tea Party will still have a voice on Capitol Hill.
"Two roads diverged: Jim DeMint leaves U.S. Senate for Heritage Foundation presidency"