Pundits and clueless Republicans are tempted to write off the back-and-forth between President Trump and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) as a “feud” or “sniping,” as if this were merely a petty, personal spat. While Trump is often petty, the public fight between one of the most powerful senators and a failing president has serious repercussions for Republicans’ agenda and the future of the GOP.
“I would recommend that based on recent history and just interactions,” Corker said on the Today Show, when asked if Trump should “leave well enough alone” on the tax debate. “I think that’s the best way for us to have success.”The comment came ahead of Trump’s visit to Capitol Hill Tuesday for his first visit as president to Republican senators’ weekly policy luncheon.Trump returned fire an hour later, escalating his recent feud with Corker.“Bob Corker, who helped President O give us the bad Iran Deal & couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee, is now fighting Tax Cuts,” the president tweeted.“Corker dropped out of the race in Tennessee when I refused to endorse him, and now is only negative on anything Trump. Look at his record!”
Trump is wrong on all counts. Corker opposed the Iran deal, decided not to run for reelection despite Trump’s pleading, remains popular back home and favors tax reform. Corker tweeted back, “Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDaycareStaff.” The hashtag referred to an earlier exchange in which Corker mused that Trump’s insults suggested that one of his aides had missed a shift at the White House’s “adult day-care center.”
This follows Corker’s blunt observation that Trump’s visit to the Hill today is just for a photo op. (C’mon, does anyone think Trump is capable of having an informed discussion on substance?)
Later in the morning Corker said, “He’s obviously not going to rise to the occasion.” He added, “the constant non-truth-telling, just the name-calling … the debasement of our nation will be what he’ll be remembered most for.” He added that “it affects young people.”
Whether it is a pregnant Gold Star widow such as Myeshia Johnson or a powerful U.S. senator whose help Trump needs both on Iran and the do-or-die tax plan, Trump is incapable of disengaging from a fight that he is obviously losing. He cannot cede the field to anyone, no matter how destructive the prolonged fight is to his own goals. Everything comes back to a personal battle of wills in which Trump cannot stand to be seen on the losing side. For Trump, all human and personal interactions are reduced to a test of his ego; any perceived defeat is intolerable for him. Extending these exchanges, of course, leads to bigger and more serious defeats, but those he can justify as the result of “fake media” or hapless Republicans.
Corker is demonstrating that the GOP sycophants who feed Trump’s ego have it all wrong. The president cannot be cajoled into being a responsible, effective president. He cannot be pinned down to any specific position. No loyalty can be expected from him. Rather than lose one’s political soul and waste endless time trying to placate the impulsive, irrational president, the best course of action is to expose his craziness, minimize his influence and then ignore him.
Corker is right on taxes. If Trump keeps popping up to criticize and contradict Republican negotiators, flitting from one position to another, the tax debate will wind up just as the health-care debate did — in a humiliating defeat for the GOP. Saying aloud what virtually all GOP senators believe — namely that Trump has no idea what he’s doing and that his word is meaningless — allows them to proceed, craft a deal and then plop it on his desk. Trump is so desperate for a win that he will be hard-pressed not to sign whatever Congress comes up with.
Corker’s frankness also should serve as a constant warning and prod to his colleagues. Corker said about Trump’s fitness, “My concerns have continued to rise.” The president’s mental, ethical and psychological unfitness should weigh on Corker’s fellow Republicans as it does on him. Corker’s concerns are rising because Trump’s behavior is getting worse, with more-frequent fights and displays of incoherence on critical policy issues. Republican members’ inability to uphold their oaths to check or remove a dangerous, unfit president will and certainly should be front and center in the 2018 midterms, when Democrats can present themselves as the only party willing to uphold the responsibilities of a coequal branch of government.
Corker is already laying down a marker. If the GOP is to ever recover from Trump, it most likely will need to do so in a 2020 primary. At least one Republican will need to run and make the case that Trump is not only a failure but also a menace to our democracy and national security. Egging on the North Korean dictator, compulsively lying, subverting an independent judiciary, trampling on the First Amendment and lacking the requisite skills to manage the executive branch and push through legislation should preclude a second term (if Trump makes it through this one.)
Unless a qualified opponent such as Corker (or Ohio Gov. John Kasich or another independent-minded governor) mounts a full-throated challenge to Trump in 2020 (or leads an effort to dislodge him before that), both houses of Congress and the White House may wind up in Democratic hands in 2020 — unless Democrats fail to get their act together and nominate a ridiculous candidate (someone either from the far left or someone tied at the hip to the Clintons, such as Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.)
For now, Republicans should watch Corker — or better yet, join him. He’s showing them how to save their own reputations, their party and ultimately the country from the grip of an unbalanced, dysfunctional president.