Nearly four years ago, in June 2009, then senator Jim DeMint endorsed Marco Rubio, an unknown, 38-year-old attorney, in Florida’s Republican Senate primary. It was huge news. Then GOP governor Charlie Crist was expected to waltz to the nomination, since he had the backing of most of the Republican establishment. DeMint’s endorsement led to a flurry of conservative interest in Rubio, who eventually landed on the cover of National Review and, of course, in the Senate. These days, however, that relationship is fraying, at least politically.
DeMint is now president of the Heritage Foundation and he’s battling Rubio’s push for comprehensive immigration reform. And the fight is only beginning. In a new post on the Heritage website, DeMint rails against the Gang of Eight’s bill, saying it has a “significant cost” for taxpayers. “This new bill is much the same as the last [such bill in 2007]: immediate amnesty in the form of provisional status within months and lofty promises of ’strategies’ and ‘plans’ for enforcement years later,” he writes.
Though DeMint’s opposition alone is probably not enough to take down the bill, how Rubio navigates the growing chorus of critics will say much about its chances. Rubio, for his part, clearly takes the opposition seriously. He’s spending many hours this week huddling with conservative leaders, and later today, he’ll once again appear on a slew of conservative talk-radio programs. On Wednesday, he appeared on Mark Levin’s show, where he carefully explained the bill.
Will Rubio’s wooing be enough to win some more conservative supporters? We’ll see. But it’s fascinating to see how DeMint, once Rubio’s greatest ally, is now an important adversary during a critical moment in Rubio’s career.