Political Animal


April 30, 2013 9:30 AM Family Feud

By Ed Kilgore

This is a story I’ve hoped some reporter would write, and here it is in today’s New York Times, by Ashley Parker:

Jim DeMint helped make Marco Rubio a Senate star — and he could be forgiven for regretting it.

Mr. DeMint, a former Republican senator from South Carolina, endorsed Mr. Rubio early on in his 2010 Senate bid, when he was still a long-shot Tea Party candidate, and Mr. Rubio has said that Mr. DeMint is his best friend, after his wife.

And yet, perhaps for the first time, the two men now find themselves at odds on a major issue. In 2007, Mr. DeMint was instrumental in helping to kill legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, and now, six years later, Mr. Rubio, Republican of Florida, is a pivotal member of a bipartisan Senate group that has written a bill that would do just what Mr. DeMint was fighting to prevent.

There are a lot of different angles you could take to describe this DeMint-Rubio conflict: Rubio’s “forgotten where he came from” and DeMint’s trying to remind him of his all-but-abandoned principles; DeMint’s The Past of the conservative movement and Rubio’s The Future; and then there’s the straightforward family analogy, where Rubio’s the proud and adored son bucking the old man’s instructions. You’ll probably hear them all before the immigration fight is over.

The big question—other than, of course, who’s going to “win” on immigration—is whether DeMint finds himself another protege (say, Ted Cruz) or instead there is some sort of Prodigal Son moment where DeMint and Rubio bury the hatchet and zestfully join in some joint project like gutting Obamacare or demonizing SNAP.

I’ve always thought DeMint was a much bigger deal in the conservative movement and the GOP than most progressives understood. Now his first big battle as head of the Heritage Foundation has arrived, and political media are following it in no small part as a 2016 campaign story, in which the immigration bill determines whether Marco Rubio can reconcile the political, ideological and demographic needs of the GOP all in his own self.

My money’s on DeMint and the opponents of immigration reform, but there’s always the possibility that the conspicuous failure of immigration legislation could make the GOP’s craving for a Latino presidential candidate even more intense than ever, giving Rubio another chance.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on April 30, 2013 9:44 AM:

    Pardon me for saying this, but when they do bury their hatchets, I hope it's in each other's skulls.

    Ed, don't 'mis-underestimate' DeMented, he'll only be 64 in 2016, and I do believe he might be convinced HE'S the Conservative savior that everyone on the right is hoping for - even if only ONE person says that to him.

  • Steve P on April 30, 2013 10:07 AM:

    "Tell Jim I it was only business. I always liked him."

  • mb on April 30, 2013 10:10 AM:

    "thereís always the possibility that the conspicuous failure of immigration legislation could make the GOPís craving for a Latino presidential candidate even more intense than ever, giving Rubio another chance."

    Sounds like you're trying out for a gig at Slate, Ed. Seems much more likely that the inevitable failure of immigration reform (IR) will sour the GOP on Rubio since they will realize that they have screwed the pooch with the Latino vote anyway with IR so why try to pander with a brown candidate. I don't think that there is any real "craving" within the GOP for a Latino candidate. If a brown/black candidate is chosen by the GOP, it will be begrudgingly -- though they will make it look like they've finally found the "good one." My prediction is that IR will fail, Rubio will fade, and the GOP will turn to the next white guy in line.

  • John Gibbons on April 30, 2013 10:14 AM:

    Not to be too conspiratorial, but I always assume that the xenophobia of Republicans is just part of their effort to convince white working class men that they're on their side against the liberals who want to give everything to the blacks, Mexicans, etc. Therefore, if De Mint and his cronies pretend to oppose Rubio's efforts to champion immigration reform, but Rubio is successful in getting enough GOP support and eventually bring DeMint et al along, he looks moderate and it's then a cake walk to the 2016 presidency. If they don't realize the inevitability of immigration reform, they are truly ignorant and the plan is too simple not take advantage of. The script is already written.

  • MuddyLee on April 30, 2013 10:33 AM:

    Follow the money - the crazy conservative money. DeMint is the one making a million dollars a year as a mouthpiece for the RICH WHITE MALES who think the Clintons and the Obamas are socialists. Some tokenism will be allowed - Rubio, Jindal, Tim Scott - but they won't be at the top of the ticket, just like Palin and Bachmann will never be the main event. These people are dangerous and we need to fight them.

  • Barbara on April 30, 2013 10:50 AM:

    I just don't see a huge groundswell of Republican primary participant support for Rubio just because Rubio will be perceived as being acceptable to immigrants. Rubio is probably less of a token than Herman Cain, but how much less? Jeb Bush is probably the perfect candidate from this perspective -- he is white but his wife is Hispanic. Likewise, his sons -- not the actual embodiment of immigrant success but a close enough facsimile to allow others to feel good, while still being authentically a member of a privileged majority. Something much bigger is going to have to change before Rubio or Jindal or Haley has the appeal to Republicans that Obama has to Democtrats.

  • David Carlton on April 30, 2013 11:10 AM:

    Boy, this sounds like another DeMint protege who wandered off the reservation--Bob Inglis. They, too, were supposed to be good friends, even fellow PCA congregants in Greenville. But then Inglis started taking climate change seriously and questioning other Tea Party verities, and the next thing we knew the shiv was in his back. I'd sure watch out if I were Rubio; DeMint doesn't want friends, he wants lackeys.

  • Joe Friday on April 30, 2013 11:23 AM:

    I'll be waiting for The Worm Has Turned moment from Rubio.