Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has had it with his fellow GOP lawmakers and the conservative Americans who blindly support Trumpism.
“It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?” Corker told reporters Wednesday morning. “It’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be of — purportedly — the same party.”
The retiring lawmaker was alluding to Republican lawmakers and voters' willingness to stick behind the president regardless of his words, behavior or actions, and specifically his colleagues' refusal to support legislation opposing Trump's proposed tariffs.
In the past month, Trump has met with a North Korean dictator who had been harshly criticized by conservatives. He has attacked his own attorney general on social media and accused the FBI of furthering a witch hunt against his presidency. He has allowed one of his personal lawyers to spew sexist attacks at an adult-film star with whom the president allegedly had an affair. And he has continued to align himself with ideas and candidates associated with white supremacism, sexism or xenophobia.
Still, Trump has the second-highest 500-day mark approval rating from his own party of any president in recent history, according to Axios.
This type of loyalty — especially from those elected to help lead the party — frustrates Corker. It disappoints Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who said his fellow lawmakers should be ashamed of some of Trump's words and behavior. And it infuriates some other GOP analysts and activists upset with the direction in which many of their political kin are taking.
But few are as high profile and consistent in their critiques of Trump and his supporters as Corker. But one thing that the senator's rebukes of his fellow Republicans appear to lack is self-awareness, starting with an admission that Corker had a hand in legitimizing the cult.
Corker made a name for himself on the Hill as an experienced member of the Republican conference deeply concerned with foreign affairs. In the early days of Trump's candidacy, Corker displayed reservations; he appeared to have more questions than answers about Trump's approach to policymaking and politics, but, eventually, Corker came around.
By the summer of 2016, Corker was trying to convince voters that Trump had Americans' best interests in mind.
“The reason you love him so much is because he loves you,” Corker said in July 2016 to applause at the packed Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, N.C.
In the months before the election, Corker was considered a potential vice presidential candidate. During this time he went out of his way to assure voters — especially those who looked to a more policy-oriented establishment conservative like Corker — that Trump was not who his critics said he was.
After withdrawing from consideration for the vice presidential slot, Corker, a successful businessman himself, praised Trump's leadership of his businesses.
“I do wish people had an opportunity to visit there and see the people who work with him,” Corker said in July 2016. “They’re the kind of people I like to be associated with. You don’t get the caricature of Trump, if you will. You see he couldn’t be more of a gentleman and how he acts the same with both the most senior and the most junior people around him.”
And it's not as if there's a great gulf between Trump's words now and then. Much of what Trump has said about immigrants, U.S. institutions and power he communicated in the presidential campaign. There has been no pivot. After months of Trump surrogates telling voters to “let Trump be Trump,” he's doing exactly that. And Corker, who appears to be ending his congressional career in part because of his frustration with legislating during the Trump era, was one of the people who said amen to that message.
Even during this season of frequent criticism, Corker is more in alignment with Trump than his on-air criticisms of the commander in chief suggest. He's voted with the president more than 84 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Corker would likely argue that you can support Trump without bowing down to him uncritically, but there have been few successful examples of that. Most who have tried to support Trumpism while calling out its more problematic aspects have walked toward early retirements, lost reelection bids or been attacked by Trump or his surrogates.
Perhaps most Republicans are ignoring Corker's points because they genuinely believe that Trump's agenda for America is in the best interest of the country. But it is possible that his words are falling on deaf ears because not too long ago, the gap between Corker and the people he criticizes wasn't that wide.