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Cornyn, DeMint Playing Nice for 2012 Cycle

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Jim DeMint angered many Republicans by picking sides in the 2010 Senate primaries.

Sens. John Cornyn (Texas) and Jim DeMint (S.C.) have reached a detente, mutually agreeing to sideline the feud that engulfed the two Republicans throughout the 2010 election cycle in favor of cooperation in 2012.

Cornyn, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, and DeMint, influential in Senate campaigns through his Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee, were chastened by GOP failures in otherwise successful midterm elections. But each has adjusted his strategy somewhat for 2012, which —along with more regular communication between the two — has helped prevent sparring over their differing approaches to candidate recruitment and GOP primaries.

“The key is, is the Senate committee is not getting involved in primaries. I am. But John and I are talking,” DeMint said in an interview Tuesday. “And, the fact is, I’m vetting candidates more carefully. They’re vetting candidates more carefully, and so far, in a lot of cases, we’re on the same page.”

He added, “The Senate committee is doing what it’s supposed to: raising money to help us win general elections, not necessarily pick favorites in primaries.”

Cornyn, who immediately following the 2010 elections sought to establish an understanding with DeMint and avoid more infighting, agreed that conflicts between the NRSC and the SCF have been minimized.

Cornyn even declined to criticize DeMint for playing heavily in the Texas GOP Senate primary on behalf of candidate Ted Cruz. The NRSC chairman has remained steadfastly neutral in the race and is thought by some Texas Republicans to take exception to outsiders wading into his backyard.

“We had some differences last cycle. But this cycle, early on, we had breakfast and worked very hard, I think, to minimize any conflicts, and so far, I think we’re doing pretty well. At least, that’s my impression,” Cornyn said.

Republicans who have observed the Cornyn-DeMint relationship over the past couple of years confirm the improvement in their interaction since Election Day 2010.

Conversations occur regularly between the two Senators, as well as NRSC and SCF officials. Cornyn noted that he and DeMint often have occasion to talk on Tuesdays, during meetings of the Steering Committee. DeMint is chairman of the Steering Committee, made up of the more conservative Senators within the Republican Conference, and Cornyn is the only member of leadership to sit on the Steering Committee.

One former Senate Republican leadership aide said neither Cornyn nor DeMint was interested in continuing their feud into the 2012 cycle. Cornyn encourages Republicans thinking of running for Senate to meet with DeMint and as many GOP Senators as they can. “They’re both purposely trying to avoid conflict,” this Republican operative said.

Despite their successes, Cornyn and DeMint stumbled somewhat in 2009 and 2010 as each sought to influence GOP primaries.

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