Jeb & Marco

In the runup to the annual CPAC conference, which begins tomorrow, one of the hot topics is the “rivalry” of two speakers, Florida’s Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who have in the past been considered very, very close, with the older Jeb generally viewed as a mentor and the younger Marco considered a prodigy who could turn “prodigal” by eclipsing Bush’s supposed ambitions to give his family’s presidential dynasty another jewel.

So Marin Cogan’s piece at TNR on the history and current trajectory of the Bush-Rubio relationship is very well timed. She details Jeb’s gradually intensifying sponsorship of Rubio’s career, beginning in the late 1990s, and makes it clear that while Bush did not openly endorse the younger man’s insurgent campaign against Charlie Crist in 2010 until Crist left the GOP, he was a crucial behind-the-scenes supporter and advisor all along.

Nobody doubts Rubio would have been on board had Jeb run for president in 2012, and it may be significant that he refused to endorse anyone else until the end of March, when Romney had all but wrapped up the nomination. Now, of course, with a lot of conservatives wanting badly to believe that a Latino face on the national ticket is really all the adjustment Republicans need to make to deal with the demographic realities underlying last November’s defeat, the prodigy has eclipsed the mentor in most conventional assessments of the 2016 field. Bush’s recent clumsy mis-positioning of himself on both immigration and taxes has made him superficially at odds with Rubio, and also less attractive to conservatives already in the habit of blaming the GOP’s bad national image on Jeb’s father and brother.

Still, Cogan concludes Rubio would not cross Bush by challenging him for the presidential nomination; the relationship is too close and his own political debts to Jeb too formidable. Maybe that’s the final word on the subject, but it’s impossible to forget what Rubio said in his famous GQ interview shortly after the 2012 election: asked who he’d call his “best friend,” the junior senator from Florida named his wife first, Jim DeMint second, and then his old patron Jeb third, sounding much like an afterthought.

I don’t know anything specific about Jeb’s relationship with DeMint, the suddenly dominant figure among Senate Republicans who now runs the Heritage Foundation. But it is worth remembering that DeMint was widely considered a lonely crank during the period of Jeb Bush’s active years as a Republican elected official, and probably a major source of the revisionist theory that W., like his old man, was a perfidious RINO responsible for the GOP’s recent troubles.

It would not be too surprising if Rubio decided his old mentor had failed to keep up with the zeitgeist, and deserved a dignified retirement from electoral politics. But you can expect the Bush-Rubio dynamic to be a big theme in CPAC coverage, unless something more dramatic happens (say, a Ted Cruz speech identifying the precise number of communists in the State Department).

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.