Does Bob Corker challenge Trump in 2020?

Donald Trump’s war on Senate Republicans continues unabated. Sunday, Trump took to trashing Sen. Bob Corker on Twitter. In a series of dyspeptic tweets, the President blamed Corker for the Iran Deal, and berated the senator from Tennessee for announcing that he would not seek a third term

Yes, Corker had earned Trump’s ire by complaining of the chaos that surrounds Trump, but Corker is not a club-of-one. Trump has lashed out at other senior Republican senators for saying far less. More ominously for Trump, his tantrums could even earn him a primary challenge, something no president wants.

Already, Trump has repeatedly bludgeoned Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for the sins of being a captured POW, and voting against repeal and replace. He also chivvied Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, for investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.  In addition, Trump has criticized incumbent senators Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, who face primary challenges next year.

To be sure, little good can come from these attacks by Trump on members of his own party. At a minimum, they will not help advance Trump’s legislative agenda. On the other hand, they could help make New York’s Chuck Schumer the next Senate Majority Leader, and kill any chance of a tax cut, not exactly desired outcomes for the GOP.

Most of all, Corker let Trump and the world know that his take on Trump was widely shared by Senate Republicans.

With Korea, the Iran Deal, and tax reform all hanging in the balance, a different approach would have been in order. As a matter of political self-preservation, the president should not treat Corker as he does North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Unlike “Little Rocket Man,” Corker is legally eligible to challenge Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination.

With history as a guide, sitting presidents who weather primaries have a difficult time winning reelection, just ask Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. To be sure, two years is a lifetime in politics, and Corker would likely lose, but not before he had bloodied Trump, and raised the odds against Trump’s reelection.

Already, Corker has let everyone know that he, like Trump, is someone who won’t back down, and for the record, Corker gave as good as he got. Responding with a Tweet of his own, Corker intimated that Trump was addled, saying “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”

On Sunday night, Corker again took aim at Trump’s fitness and foibles. In Corker’s words, Trump had treated the presidency as a “reality show,” as if Trump were “doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.” Most of all, Corker let Trump and the world know that his take on Trump was widely shared by Senate Republicans.

As Corker put it, “Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” adding that “of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

Already, some are musing that Corker’s planned departure from the Senate is not the end of his political career. Recent news reports peg Corker as a possible candidate for governor of Tennessee in 2018, with speculation mounting that he might even wage a long-shot challenge against Trump in 2020.  

And while Trump and Steve Bannon gloat over Corker’s refusal to run again, they would do well to remember that Breitbart’s own Joel B. Pollak, the website’s executive editor, has already threatened Trump with the prospect of a primary if he did not toe the line on immigration and populist orthodoxy. Pollak’s words, not mine.

As Pollak put it, the Republican Party could see “the emergence of a primary candidate from the right challenging Donald Trump.” It doesn’t get any clearer. And if Pollak can threaten Trump, why not Corker?

If -- and it’s a big if -- Corker takes a flier on the White House, he would do well to remember Davy Crockett, another Tennessean who stood his ground back in the day, the day being 1834. Crockett, then a congressman, confronted President Andrew Jackson, another Tennessean and a Trump favorite, over the continued removal of the Cherokee Indians from their homes.

Crockett also complained that Jackson was overstepping constitutional limits, and that his vice president, Martin Van Buren, would admiringly gaze up at the president as if he were king. It all sounds too familiar. History rhymes, even if it doesn’t repeat itself.

In the end, Crockett had his fill of Congress, lost his seat, and died fighting at the Alamo. Like Crockett, Corker understands patriotism sometimes requires speaking difficult and uncomfortable truths. Against this backdrop, both Corker and Trump should think hard about what comes next.

Lloyd Green was staff secretary to the George H.W. Bush campaign’s Middle East Policy Group in 1988 and served in the Department of Justice between 1990 and 1992.