Family Feud

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.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.