Since then, he has seemed liberated to speak more freely. On October 1, he said on Meet the Press that he stood by his post-Charlottesville criticism. On Tuesday, he suggested a willingness to vote against the White House tax-cut effort—a crucial piece of legislation for an administration that is still desperately seeking its first major legislative victory, some nine months into office.
Even more pungent were comments on Wednesday, after NBC News reported (and other outlets confirmed) that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” behind closed doors, and had considered resignation.
“I think Secretary Tillerson, [Defense] Secretary [James] Mattis and Chief of Staff [John] Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos,” Corker said.
It’s a good bet those comments, which were discussed on this week’s Sunday shows, are what caught Trump’s attention. They also point to how the Iran deal, as the president’s tweets indicated, remain another center of tension between Corker and Trump. Trump has continued to speak critically of the Iran deal, even as he has continued to leave it in place. Tillerson, Mattis, and Kelly all believe the deal should remain in place; the most recent reports suggest that Trump might try to pass the buck by decertifying the deal but allowing Congress to affirm it and leave it in place.
As to whether Trump’s comments about not endorsing Corker are true, the president has a well-earned reputation for making things up. Although Trump has threatened to oppose GOP incumbents in Senate primaries, especially Arizona’s Jeff Flake, CNN reported that Trump had indicated he would endorse Corker.
One interpretation of all of this is that Corker is an agile politician. He recognized early on that Trump was unstoppable and aligned himself with the candidate; he prudently removed himself from consideration as vice president, then has seen Trump repeatedly humiliate Mike Pence; he sidestepped the secretary of state role, and has watched Rex Tillerson grow increasingly miserable and repeatedly been undercut by the president. Now, he’s attacking Trump as the presidency sinks into the quagmire—and leaving Washington before Trump can drag down the GOP around Corker.
Perhaps that is true, or perhaps Corker is genuinely appalled by Trump. Likely both are factors. But what is striking about Corker’s more recent statements, from his judgment that Trump has not “demonstrate[d] the stability nor some of the competence” he needs to his much blunter, crasser “adult day care” tweet, is how neatly they invert what he said 18 months ago. Back then, many Americans seemed to wonder whether Trump had the maturity to take on the role of president, and Bob Corker was there to assure them he’d grow into it, especially with wise counselors.
Now it is Corker who is warning that Trump not only has not grown into the role, but is too juvenile for it and requires minding by so-called adults in the room like Mattis, Kelly, and Tillerson. The Tennessee senator is the latest to recognize, or at least to state publicly, that there is no new Trump, no blossoming into the role of the presidency, no maturation—so in the absence of the Trump pivot he promised in April 2016, the nation has instead received a Corker pivot in October 2017.