As political food fights go, the back and forth between Donald Trump and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) offers plenty of drama and entertainment. The key question, however, is what, if anything, happens in the wake of the rhetorical jabs.Tensions between the two Republicans isn’t new, but conditions have escalated now that Corker has announced his retirement, freeing him from some constraints. Last week, for example, the GOP senator made the case that members of the president’s cabinet are helping prevent the world from slipping into Trump-imposed “chaos.”
Over the weekend, the president returned fire, saying Corker “begged” Trump for an endorsement, and decided to retire after Trump refused. The president added that the Tennessee Republican “didn’t have the guts” to seek another term.
On Twitter, Corker responded to the latest Trump tantrum by writing, “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” In an interview with the New York Times, the senator went quite a bit further.
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”
In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”
“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”
As for the president’s assertions that he refused to back Corker’s re-election, both the senator and sources close to him insisted to multiple news outlets that Trump offered an endorsement and even urged Corker to reconsider after the senator decided to retire.
“I don’t know why the president tweets out things that are not true,” Corker added. “You know he does it, everyone knows he does it, but he does.”
The senator went on to tell the Times that officials in the West Wing routinely have to protect Trump from his own misguided instincts. “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” Corker said.
By way of a rejoinder, Trump tweeted last night, “Bob Corker gave us the Iran Deal [and] that’s about it.” As is often the case, the president has no idea what he’s talking about: Corker, a conservative red-state Republican, opposed the international nuclear agreement with Iran.
On the surface, all of this certainly makes for excellent political theater. A Republican president and Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are going at it, in public, with increasingly toxic animosity. The clash of personalities is dramatic and extremely unusual.
But it’s what happens below the surface that actually matters. It seems plainly obvious that Corker believes Trump is unfit for the presidency, but what’s far less obvious is what the Tennessee Republican intends to do about it.
So far this year, Corker has voted with Trump nearly 90% of the time and has made little effort to use his Senate position to hold the president’s feet to the fire. The public rebukes of Trump are welcome and help advance the public’s understandings of Trump’s terrifying shortcomings – ideally, other GOP senators would be equally candid – but what else does Corker intend to do about his dissatisfaction with the man in the Oval Office?
The senator admits that he’s “concerned” about the president’s stability. I’ll be eager to see how those concerns manifest themselves between now and Corker’s retirement in 14 months.
Postscript: Corker added yesterday, in reference to Trump, “Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here.” I’m glad, but the vast majority of Republican senators are also biting their tongues, which makes it easy to argue they’re complicit in the president’s dangerous antics.