In this week’s episode of President Donald Trump versus the GOP, Senator Bob Corker unleashed a string of scathing critiques about the President, ranging from an assertion that Trump treated his office like a “reality show” to a disavowal of Trump’s diplomatic incompetence which Corker claims is setting the country on a “path to World War III.” Since Corker announced that he would not stand for reelection, the Tennessee Senator and Republican Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee unleashed some of his most uninhibited thoughts about Trump, borrowing from the president’s own playbook of frank, overt confrontation in lieu of traditional diplomacy. The exchange exposes the Senator’s view of Trump as a political novice who failed to make the transition from show business. Corker’s remarks have sent major shock waves through the Senate and have cast further doubts on Trump’s ability to enact major legislation after several failed attempts this year.
The confrontation began last Sunday when Trump accused Corker of deciding not to run for re-election because “he did not have the guts.” Corker responded with a scathing blow on twitter: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” In a classic game of he said he said, Trump wrote that the senator “begged” for his endorsement and “[Trump] said ‘NO’ and [Corker] dropped out (said he could not win without my endorsement).” Trump further added that when Corker allegedly asked to be Secretary of State, “I said ‘NO THANKS.’” Corker flatly rebuked Trump’s claims saying that the President actually encouraged him to run again on four separate occasions and promised an endorsement if he chose to run. Corker added that Trump repeatedly indicated his desire to come to Tennessee to rally on Corker’s behalf and even encouraged Corker to reconsider his retirement plans.
However, the deepest blow for Trump came from Corker’s allegation that every Senate Republican and a small cadre of Trump’s senior administration officials constantly working to neutralize his unpredictable antics: “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” Corker claimed in a phone interview.
These deeply personal back-and-forth attacks have not only ruptured Trump and Corker’s relationship but also shed light on Trump’s waning relationship with the Republican Party. Trump’s feud with Corker is especially threatening to his legislative agenda as Trump attempts to pass a landmark reform on the tax code. If Senate Democrats unite against the promised bill, Trump could potentially lose the support of only two of the Senate’s 53 Republicans to pass it, resulting in a repeat of Trump’s failed attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, so Corker may be one of Trump’s last viable hopes for tax reform. Corker’s support is also indispensable if Trump follows through with his threats to “decertify” the Iran nuclear deal, relegating to Congress the decision of whether or not to restore sanctions on Tehran and effectively terminate the pact.
Senator Corker is hardly the only republican senator chastising the president. He is just the only one doing it so publicly and so bluntly. When Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was asked about the feud, he replied, “Both ought to cool it. Next question.” Senator Roy Blunt (R- Mo.) told CNN, “I’m supportive of both of them. I’d like to see it stop.” He joins the small cadre of Republican senators, including Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Jeff Flake, and Senator Ben Sasse, who have broken party ties to defy Trump. Still, all previous instances of Republican dissent pale in comparison to Corker’s biting statements. These aforementioned senators realize that the president needs their support in Congress almost as much as they need his political support, especially given Trump’s current legislative standstill. For House Republicans who face voters every two years, specifically those in largely conservative districts where support for the president remains strong, there is even less incentive to turn against Trump.
Corker is the most recent—though not the only—recipient of a Trump attack on the GOP establishment after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (“he failed!”) and Rand Paul (“such a negative force”), both of Kentucky; Jeff Flake (He’s toxic!) and John McCain (“Let Arizona down!”), both of Arizona; and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (“really let the Republicans, and our country, down”). There may be no immediate relief from the recent political carnage as neither man has the incentive to back down. In announcing that he won’t seek re-election, Corker has no need to appeal to the president for support, and Trump is channeling the views of many conservatives who worry about Corker’s fluctuation on conservative issues, most notably when he joined Democrats to support immigration reform in 2013 and Corker’s controversial role in “rolling out the red carpet for the Iran Deal,” as Sarah Huckabee Sanders claims. Of the two, Trump undoubtedly has more political capital to lose given Corker’s centrality to the GOP’s hopes of passing major legislation by the end of the year.
The future of the GOP remains largely unknown, especially given the nuclear showdown between Trump and Corker. While Trump’s rhetoric served him during his campaign, it clearly has not sufficed to pass major legislation. If Trump does not change his incendiary ways, the Republican party’s legislative progress may remain static. Several of Trump’s campaign promises have remained just that—promises, not reality—largely due to his relationship, or lack thereof, with the GOP. If Trump wants to swing the legislative stalemate in his favor, one thing is for certain: he can’t do it without the Republican party’s support. Will he get it? Stay tuned as we find out on the next episode of Trump versus the GOP.