This is no mere Twitter war.
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Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., in choosing to revive and escalate his critique of President Trump, has crossed a critical threshold in questioning the president’s fitness for the office he occupies. The fact that he’s not alone in his party – and that is a fact – has implications for the president’s ability to govern from here.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is now on the record saying that Trump is “debasing our nation,” engaging in “constant non-truth telling,” and even “kneecapping” public servants in his own administration who are trying to avert war.
This is not primarily about policy, or even personality, at this point. It’s different even that fretting, as Corker did a few weeks ago, that the president is leading the nation “on the path to World War III.”
This is a senior Republican leader and a onetime advocate for the Trump coming close to declaring that the president is not fit for the presidency.
Corker didn’t answer direct questions today about whether he believes Trump should be removed from office. But he’s signaling that he regrets his decision to endorse and campaign for the president, revealing the kind of intra-party schism that may be too deep to ever repair.
Trump an ‘utterly untruthful’ president who’s ‘debasing’ the US, GOP Sen. Bob Corker says
President Donald Trump and Sen. Bob Corker escalate their Twitter feud
“There were many people — I was one of those — who hoped he would rise to the occasion and aspire to lead our nation instead of dividing it,” Corker told reporters today. “He hasn’t risen to the occasion. At this point I realize what we’re dealing with, I think like most Americans.”
Corker, now freed of political considerations with his impending retirement, claims to be giving voice to concerns shared by some colleagues who are afraid of the repercussions of speaking out.
He’s playing Trump’s game to some extent. #AlertTheDayCareStaff is quite a hashtag from a sitting United States senator. But he’s also making clear he’s doing so more out of sadness than relishing the moment.
Other prominent Republicans – notably Senators John McCain, Ben Sasse, and Jeff Flake – have publicly questioned aspects of the president’s ability to lead. While several GOP senators have said they consider Corker’s fights with Trump to be unproductive, none has publicly denounced Corker for going public with his concerns.
Trump’s responses to Corker – on Twitter, of course – have ignored his wife’s admonishments against name-calling in public life. The president is calling Corker “liddle,” a “lightweight,” and “incompetent,” while blaming him for President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and claiming – falsely, according to Corker – that he chose retirement only after Trump refused to endorse him for reelection.
Trump is framing the battle with Corker as part of his ongoing war with the establishment of both parties: “People like liddle’ Bob Corker have set the U.S. way back. Now we move forward!” the president tweeted today.
But this is different that the Twitter wars that Trump has taken to a form of art. This is not a fight with Rosie O’Donnell or Arnold Schwarzenegger, or even with one of the many campaign rivals whose physical appearance Trump relished mocking during his campaign.
Trump today is having lunch with senators, with his last best shot at a legislative accomplishment this year on the line. Corker has revealed concerns that cut far deeper than that, though – with questions about the president’s ability to do the job now in the air on Capitol Hill.
This gets to the heart of governing and what it means to be president. Corker may be the focus of this feud, but he’s not alone in his sentiments.