Sen. John Cornyn said during a closed-door meeting Tuesday that he expects colleagues to bring their concerns to him about candidates he recruits as National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman — and not to help mount challenges against them, Republicans familiar with the meeting said Thursday.
Although not mentioned by name, the Republicans said the Texas lawmaker’s speech was clearly intended for the ears of Sen. Jim DeMint.
The South Carolina Republican backed a number of conservative “outsider” candidates this year who won tough primaries against establishment candidates favored by Cornyn, only to be defeated by what had been seen as weak Democratic candidates.
DeMint did not respond to Cornyn’s comments, the Republicans said. However, the two lawmakers have had several conversations since Election Day, GOP aides familiar with the situation said.
NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh declined to comment, but according to Republicans, Cornyn delivered his warning in a speech to the entire Conference during their leadership elections. In the speech, Cornyn noted that some members of the Conference were unhappy with the conservative credentials of Cornyn’s picks and opted to actively work against them during the 2010 cycle.
Rather than attack candidates who have been backed explicitly by the NRSC or by a state’s party, Cornyn said, unhappy Members should come to him with their concerns.
Cornyn’s speech and his post-election meetings with DeMint are unlikely to curb the South Carolinian’s efforts to forge a more conservative GOP Conference in the Senate. Although he did not have the kinds of successes this year that would warrant the title of conservative kingmaker, he nevertheless was a key player in the victories of Sens. elect Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.).
His Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee also helped funnel thousands of dollars to conservative candidates, and DeMint has built over the past two years a significant donor list to help fund future campaign efforts.
Additionally, there have been long-standing rumors that those close to DeMint actively worked behind the scenes to help Republican Mike Lee in his successful primary bid against Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah), although DeMint has repeatedly denied those claims. Lee went on to win the general election.
While DeMint is still expected to actively support conservative candidates in primaries for open seats or seats held by Democrats, he said Thursday that he has agreed not to “plan” to support primary challengers looking to oust any of his colleagues.
“I have no plans to oppose incumbent Republicans in primaries, but I do plan to play an active role in primaries where there is a Democrat incumbent or an open seat. It’s important that principled candidates like Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are not overlooked by our party,” DeMint said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.