President Trump is embroiled in an increasingly nasty spat with the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who ought to be a natural ally.
It’s hard to see how a war of words with Bob Corker helps the president.
What Corker told the New York Times for a story yesterday is so blistering that if a Democrat had made such a full-throated attack on Trump, he’d be dismissed as an overzealous partisan.
Sure, the Tennessee senator has been liberated to speak his mind now that he’s not running for reelection. But his words to the Times, against a president of his own party, are still extraordinary. And with his chairman’s gavel, he can make plenty of trouble for Trump over the next year.
Corker, who made a fortune in construction, has played golf with Trump and was briefly considered for secretary of State before taking himself out of the running.
Trump, who ran against the Republican establishment, has also had strained relations with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and occasionally makes nice with the Democrats.
The animosity between Trump and Corker has been building for some time. Last week, for instance, the senator said Rex Tillerson is one of three people who help “separate our country from chaos.”
The lead of the Times piece is Corker saying that the president is treating his office like “a reality show” and is making threats that could lead the country “on the path to World War III.”
That’s not exactly mild diplomatic language. In fact, Corker undermines his own message by using such inflammatory phrases. Can we take it down a couple of notches?
“Incredibly irresponsible,” Kellyanne Conway told Fox.
Corker also said that top administration officials must protect Trump from his own instincts: “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him.”
The explosive interview gave ammunition to the president’s media detractors, who jumped on Corker’s contention that many Republican senators agree with him privately.
The Washington Post’s take on Trump: “If he sincerely cared about getting big bills done, he wouldn’t go to war with Corker. Especially when his party has a working majority of just two seats in the Senate… Going after Corker is like when Trump described the health bill that passed the House as ‘mean.’ It makes it less likely that other lawmakers will go out on a limb for him.”
Over the weekend, Trump appeared to hit back at Corker’s “chaos” comment, tweeting:
“Senator Bob Corker ‘begged’ me to endorse him for re-election in Tennessee. I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out (said he could not win without my endorsement). He also wanted to be Secretary of State, I said ‘NO THANKS.’ He is also largely responsible for the horrendous Iran Deal! Hence, I would fully expect Corker to be a negative voice and stand in the way of our great agenda. Didn't have the guts to run!”
Corker says much of that is untrue, that Trump urged him to run and said he’d endorse him, but that after two terms he decided against it. He also got into the Twitter sandbox: “It's a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”
Now Bob Corker is not a household name, and by itself, this controversy won’t resonate with the majority of voters. The risk for Trump is if it fuels a media narrative that even some Republicans say he’s a risky commander-in-chief.