The Rachel Maddow Show | December 06, 2012
>>> good evening, i'm ezra klein . rachel maddow has the night off. well deserved. we appreciate you sticking around for the next hour on a very, very big night in the news. there is an enormous story about the rights of workers tonight in the state of michigan . it's seriously astonishing stuff. we'll get very deep into it. but there is another equally if not more seismic political story tonight out of washington . and that is where we begin. today will be seen, remembered, as a huge day in the republican party 's continuance of war. something really big happened. south carolina senator jim demint announced today he'll be leaving the senate . he'll not be there anymore. he's leaving to head a think tank called the heritage foundation where he stands to make something like ten times his current salary. yay for jim demint , good money. kind of. it's good for him, but it's really good for his colleague, republican senate leader mitch mcconnell . you see, jim demint is not your ordinary senator. he's like the grover norquist of the senate . he's the guy the other republican senators are really afraid of. and that is because moreso than anyone else and definitely more than any other republican politician, demint is behind the tea party strategy of purifying the republican party in the cleansing fire of party primaries. demint created this pact called the senate conservativist fund, a pact he made into a super pac which makes it more super and exists to help conservative republicans beat other republicans . "since 2009 demint has raised more than $17 million to promote promising candidates in an effort to remake the senate not just in a republican image but in a diehard conservative one." the image of jim demint , even. and he has often done it by going to electoral war with his own party leadership. in the 2012 midterm elections demint threw his weight behind marco rubio in the republican primary for florida's senate race. despite the fact that the national republican senatorial committee and republican leader mitch mcconnell endorsed charlie crist in that race. marco rubio went on to win that primary and that senate seat. demint also backed rand paul in his primary. that was a fight, by the way, that took place in mcconnell's home state of kentucky and mcconnell endorsed the other guy. the not rand paul . but paul won. he won his senate race in kentucky which was deeply humiliating for mitch mcconnell . but demint has also backed a lot of candidates who won their primaries but did not go on to win their general elections . like christine "i am not a witch" o'donnell if you remember her. demint backed the not a witch candidate and she lost big time . he backed todd aiken of the legitimate rape comments and mourdock of the other rape comments. the reason jim demint isn't in the majority today is because of jim demint . but jim demint says he's okay with that.
>> i'd rather have 30 republicans in the senate who believe in the principles of freedom than 60 who don't believe in anything. [ applause ] well, let -- let me make myself even clearer. i would rather have 30 marco rubios in the senate than 60 arlen specters.
>> arlen specter you might remember got driven out of the senate in part by folks like demint. he went to the democratic party and became the 60th vote on obama care. so that worked out well for demint. but demint does rather this being in the minority thing so much that he wants to seven out the rest of his term in the minority. when you're a senator and you even begin talking to another employer about leaving the senate , you have to file this paper with the senate office of public records . they do that so before a big vote on, say, an energy bill that will make oil companies really rich, you can't go to a big oil company and say, hey, don't you think i'd make a good executive vice president who doesn't do anything but makes a ton of money for not doing it? but makes way less money than you'll make if this bill i'm going to be voting on passes? we want to know that kind of thing if it's happening. so you have to file this paper and demint filed his paper only yesterday. according to him, these negotiations began and ended in 24 hours . that is very decisive for leaving the u.s. senate . and if it is true then it's really looking like the heritage foundation and jim demint saw an opportunity in the continuing republican crackup. earlier this week, we learned that dick armey is breaking up with his tea party group freedom works and then we learned freedom works is kind of crumbling from within due to internal disputes over its strategy. that leaves a mantle of leadership for the tea party wing of the republican party wide open . that is a lot of power and a lot of fund-raising opportunity. and if you believe the timeline of the records, demint and the heritage foundation saw that opportunity whereby they could join forces and seize it and perhaps even become leaders of that wing of the party . now, they're not alone. you know who's leading the other wing of the republican party right now? and also getting a bunch of money? the don't primary all of your incumbents and choose all of your unelectable candidates wing of the party . that is karl rove . here's how rove explained his election experience.
>> i was involved in a group called american crossroads. it's the worst volunteer job i've had in my life. i was in charge of raising money. we raised $324 million, and i got sick and tired of spending money in races where the moderates and the conservatives had gone at each other and made victory impossible.
>> rove has said he wants to reorient crossroads and some reporting says he's going to do that by beginning to intervene in primaries where jim demint -like strategies are being carried out. in fact, already even though it has been less than a month since the election, crossroads is coming to the defense of shelley mo rorks moore capito, thinking of challenging rockefeller in 2014 . some have been attacking her as not conservative enough for the seat. crossroads president steven law told politico, quote, it is distasteful to see washington politicos clubbing republican candidates right out of the gate, especially to challenge an entrenche d incumbent and who enjoy the broad base of support that shelley moore capito seems to have. or jim demint said he'd rather have 30 conservative republicans in the senate than 60 who don't believe in anything. karl rove would probably rather have 60 republicans in the senate no matter what they believe. that is going to be the fight. that is the battle line in the republican party right now. the guys who want purity, more tea party , versus the guys who want a supermajority. no more obama cares. heritage versus crossroads. karl rove versus jim demint . pass me the popcorn. joining me, dave weigel of "slate" and msnbc contributor. dave , it is good to see you here tonight.
>> good to see you, ezra.
>> so is this what it kind of looks like? do you see demint and heritage as consolidating power here and making, and vying for leadership of the tea party wing of the party ?
>> no, i like the way that you put that. freedom works is going through an awkward patch right now. heritage has actually been expanding into that terrain long before any problems that occurred at freedom works . heritage in 2010 , point out, launched heritage action, 501-c3 which is renting the floor space in the rest of the heritage building and has been aggressively campaigning. during the congressional voting season against republicans , getting them to vote their way on various bills. irritating a lot of people. a lot of libertarians. a lot of moderates. this signals they're going to step that up. it's perfect for demint who has always done this. you haven't mentioned his legislation in your intro because he wasn't much of a legislator. he passed one bill that renamed a courthouse. he had stuff added to other bills. his strategy was to really slowly replace senators over the course of many years. that's what he'll do from the outside.
>> right. he didn't so much create legislation as he created legislators.
>> one thing here, his term if i'm not wrong, goes until 2016 . it's somewhat atypical for senators to leave in the middle. being in the minority in the modern senate is not super fun and so it's hard to escape the impression here that a minority status that jim demint helped create led him to leave early. it's like he's fleeing a situation that he brought into being.
>> that's astute. if you look at the seats that he had the influence on, people he actually brought into the senate , he did create people in his mold to a degree that i don't think has been -- anyone has done before. but he did it in seats already held by republicans . the one semi-exception as you point out is pennsylvania where, i mean, jim demint in a way, inadvertently, enabled the passage of affordable care act . had specter stayed within the party specter's pattern was to run toward republicans in the primary, run toward the general. it was ineffective. the clip when he talks about 60 senators who don't believe in anything, that's a little bit unfair to republicans like arlen specter . they existed. their vision for the republican party was to compromise on a couple things, build the party on immigration reform , build the party on a medicare part "d," on no child left behind . all things demint opposed. he succeeded in making republicans elected from places that safely vote republican more conservative . he didn't broaden the party at all. i mean, mitch mcconnell is not just craven. he believes to win the party , can't vote the way jim demint does. jim demint said, well, fine, here's seven people like me. i'll see you.
>> one thing i think we sometimes forget when we talk about abstract party principles is something a guy like specter believed is you represent your constituents. and his constituents were not as conservative as jim demints in south carolina , as mitch mcconnells in kentucky and, of course, pennsylvania has been going very blue. that seems to me to be kind of the core argument here. one thing that's happened is these political parties have nationalized in a very big way, and demint's strategy, it appears to me to largely be to nationalize the elections. you have this big washington groups like freedom works or now heritage entering into these primaries that are in districts for house members and states for senators and triesiying to get people acceptable to the national republican party even if they're not seriously facility for the district or state they're representing. that seems to me what karl rove is attempting to fight. he's saying, look, you have to have these elections have some local character.
>> yeah. newt gingrich used to say, when newt gingrich was more of a wise man outside the party , said the same thing. gingrich endorsed the republican who's a moderate in a special election , and in upstate new york which a lot of people had forgotten, but was kind of the kickoff to this purge of nonconservativeses. then gingrich apologized when the third, you know, the third- party candidate lost with -- it's complicated. basically the conservative might have won had the republican pulled out completely. said, i'm sorry, i'll never do it again. the demint vision for how to bring republicans to bear what they have to believe if they're republicans has spread far beyond places where it is sellable. and, again, the people who disagree with him, they just don't see what he gained for all that opposition. they saw, you stopped a couple of spending bills, but in the long run, or at least in the next couple years, you just set up a bunch of crisis points where republicans don't have lots of leverage because our message looks like your message and voters reject it. i mean, voters by about a 20-point margin blame republicans now or they will blame republicans if there's a fiscal cliff crisis.
>> right. they perspectively -- they perspectively blame republicans for it and in part from folks like demint. dave weigel for "slate" and msnbc contributor. thank you for being here tonight, my friend.
>> thank you.
>>> lame duck session means different things in different parts of the country. in one state, lame duck means shockingly bold action by the government. a lot of people calling it lame and other people ducking. it's big news and a serious conflict in the state