WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) talks to reporters as he heads to a vote on amendments to the fiscal year 2018 budget resolution, on...
Drew Angerer

GOP senator: Trump is ‘debasing’ the nation with his dishonesty

The hostilities between Donald Trump and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have been ongoing for quite a while, but it’s probably fair to say the tensions reached a new level this morning.

The Tennessee Republican appeared on NBC’s “Today” earlier, and expressed concern about the president needlessly pushing the United States closer to war. True to form, Trump responded with another Twitter salvo, publishing five odd tweets in which the president described the senator as “liddle’ Bob Corker” – his use of apostrophes remains something of a mystery – and said the Republican lawmaker retired “in Tennesse [sic] when I refused to endorse him.”

Corker initially responded with a tweet of his own, lamenting “untruths from an utterly untruthful president,” before going considerably further during an interview with CNN in a Senate hallway.

“When his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling, and the – just the name calling, the things that I think, the debasement of our nation is what we will be remembered most important, and that’s regretful. […]

“I don’t know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard, and debases our country in a way that he does, but he does.”

After noting that the president “has great difficulty with the truth,” Corker went on to say “world leaders are very aware that much of what [Trump] says is untrue.” He added, in reference to Trump, “I think that he’s proven himself unable to rise to the occasion … I don’t think that that’s possible. He’s obviously not going to rise to the occasion as president.”

Asked if he regrets supporting Trump’s candidacy in 2016, Corker demurred, but said he certainly wouldn’t back the president’s re-election campaign.

It’s not unprecedented for a president to quarrel with lawmakers from his own party, but it’s hard to think of a modern parallel for Corker arguing publicly that Trump “debases our country” with his dishonesty.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 10/9/17, 9:30 PM ET

Sen. Corker interrupts Trump 'silent movie' with uncommon candor

Rachel Maddow explains that while the things Donald Trump says are often best ignored, sometimes even his petty Twitter fights merrit attention.
Rachel Maddow explains that while the things Donald Trump says are often best ignored, sometimes even his petty Twitter fights merrit attention.
As Rachel noted on the show a couple of weeks ago, Corker “really is the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he is going out of his way to say … he believes the president is unfit for office.” And that, in and of itself, is rather extraordinary.

This is ordinarily the point at which observers like me make the case that it doesn’t much matter what elected officials say, and our sole focus should be on what they do. As a rule, I’m still inclined to believe that, and by and large, Bob Corker continues to vote the way the White House wants him to – which makes this presidential feud notable, but ultimately unsatisfying.

But something Josh Chafetz, a Cornell Law School professor, recently wrote stood out for me: “Politics is, among other things, a discursive practice. Words are actions.”

There’s something to this. Senators have a variety of mechanisms at their disposal, but to speak out and issue a public condemnation is, to a real degree, a meaningful action. It not only puts a spotlight on a political wrong, it also encourages others to do the same. In this case, Corker may be providing cover to other Republicans who may be tempted to take a stand, but who don’t want to go first.

That said, the more Corker is prepared to do beyond public admonishments, the better.