• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Flake And Corker Rail Against Trump

October 2017

Man, as Aristotle once said, is a political animal. There’s nothing numinous about us in this sense; we’re merely acting by nature. Watson, Crick, and Franklin might have just as readily found encoded in our DNA city-states, jurisprudence, and communal decrees bound to nitrogenous bases and phosphate backbones coursing through blood blue and red. Politics is with us from cradle to grave, for better or worse. It’s therefore little wonder that all aspects of American life have been lately swallowed by Aristotle’s ancient aphorism.

But, just as any other animal in the kingdom is prone to do, the modern political man has a tendency to eat his own. It’s an atavistic urge that re-emerges from time to time. The only thing that slakes it is a brother’s blood.

It’s in this fashion we find fomenting within the GOP a noticeable split. Perhaps “split” is too strong a word, and, ever-vigilant with my verbiage, I’d rather not overstate things. More realistically, there appears at most to be strife within the party, and as such, the potential for an eventual schism (history proves, in more cases than not, the former tends to presage the latter). As of this week, there are now two sitting Republican senators who have come out openly against President Trump. Until now, trepidations and frustrations were only privately held. Since Trump’s inauguration, Republican congressmen and women have adhered to their usual uniformity.

Bob Corker, the Republican senator from Tennessee, was first to disrupt the GOP’s prevailing esprit de corps. Corker announced in late September that he would not be seeking re-election when his senatorial term ends in 2018. Liberated from an incumbent’s need to appeal to his constituency, Corker has since become provocatively candid and plainspoken. During an unscripted hallway interview with CNN’s political reporter Manu Raju, Corker relieved himself of many bubbling complaints and reservations regarding President Trump. Corker’s countenance was that of a man at once conceding his political future while confessing unimpeded. He appeared all-too comfortable to be doing so.

For nearly six minutes, Corker calmly inveighed against the president. It was clear from the dialogue that Corker has been marinating with revulsion for Trump’s behavior for some time. He said that he didn’t know why Trump “lowers himself to such a low standard and debases our country in the way that he does”. He must believe in man’s perfectibility and Trump’s capacity to be better. When asked if the president is a liar, Corker equivocated before saying that “the president has great difficulty with the truth”. Few in good conscience could dispute this.

Raju continued with easy click-bait questions—the kind that lack journalistic vigor but stir the conversation. He asked Corker if President Trump was a role model for children, to which the senator responded briskly in the negative. He then asked if Corker regretted supporting Trump in the election. Corker unsentimentally confessed that he did.

None of this was especially revelatory. Never was Corker’s support for Trump steadfast; he avoided from the outset giving then candidate Trump his full-throated endorsement. This lack of fealty didn’t stop Trump’s transition team from considering Corker to fill the Secretary of State position, though. That list of candidates, you’ll recall, included Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Newt Gingrich, and Nikki Haley. And, in the months to come, the aforementioned list may find its relevance soon revitalized. One of them, with CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s card also placed in the deck, is likely to replace Rex Tillerson when he leaves.

Corker lamented President Trump’s inability to “rise to the occasion”. He also noted Trump’s “lack of desire to be competent on issues and to understand them” in general. There is much to critique about Corker, and many conservatives are hastening to do so, but there is truth to what he is saying. In the past two months alone, no less than two occasions have passed where Trump failed to rise in such a way. Chronologically, those occasions would be his response to Charlottesville and, more recently, to the Gold Star families. It’s difficult to think less of Corker for having pointed this out. And as for the president’s competence and knowledgeability—I’ve resigned myself to the hope that erudition might pass through osmosis in this White House. It’s farfetched, but I like to think that the expertise of a Mattis, McMaster, or even a Mnuchin will somehow permeate through the president’s skin. Corker, for his part, acknowledged these men’s acumen when he said that they “separate our country from chaos”.

Corker’s unveiled attacks necessarily required President Trump’s response. Tis the plight, after all, of the consummate counter-puncher. In a tweet, President Trump said, “Bob Corker, who helped President O give us the bad Iran Deal and couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee, is now fighting tax cuts…Corker dropped out of the race in Tennessee when I refused to endorse him, and now is only negative on anything Trump”. Trump isn’t wrong to say that sans his support, a Corker victory in 2018 would be highly improbable.

The tit for tat continued when Corker responded with his own terse tweet, saying, “Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president”. Alliteration appreciated.

Finally, after Corker attacked Trump cap-a-pie on CNN, the president responded with this: “Sen. Corker is the incompetent head of the Foreign Relations Committee, and look how poorly the U.S. has done. He doesn’t have a clue as the entire World WAS laughing and taking advantage of us. People like liddle’ Bob Corker have set the U.S. way back. Now we move forward”. I must say, the redundant use of these diminutives for insults has become a bit stale. Little Marco Rubio, Little Rocket Man, Liddle’ Bob Corker are Trump’s Little Men, in much the way Beth, Meg, and Jo were Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

Trump recommended we “look at his (Corker’s) record”, but doing so does approximates rather than polarizes the two. Between them, so far as the voting record is concerned, you’ll find scant disparity. Aside from the Iran Deal, which Corker helped to enact during the Obama years, he has since voted with Trump 93% of the time.

The feud’s most memorable line was this: “The debasement of our nation will be what he’ll be remembered most for”. Such vitriol is expected from the Left, but these were Corker’s words. They read like a preemptive strike against the president’s legacy, which is a concern Trump certainly busies himself with. Time will tell if this is mere pugnacity or prescience.

Until yesterday, Senator Bob Corker was the only discernable Republican detractor (save for Senator John McCain, whose enmity has never wavered and Marco Rubio from time to time) to weigh in against Trump. It was then that Senator Jeff Flake, Arizona’s other inauspicious congressman (he and McCain are inauspicious for very different reasons: McCain for his health, Flake for his diminishing favorability), stepped into the fight. He did so under the security of untrammeled circumstances much like his colleague Corker.

Flake stood before the Senate on Tuesday to deliver an emotional valediction. He, like Corker a month before, revealed he would forgo running for re-election this coming cycle. His retreat isn’t altogether surprising. Flake’s popularity in Arizona has declined precipitously in recent years. He meekly admitted that, “There may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party” and on this point—and perhaps on this point alone—his constituency conclusively agrees.

Both President Trump and Steve Bannon have advocated overtly for Dr. Kelli Ward, an osteopathic physician and conservative politician in the Grand Canyon state. She is far and away more popular than the fleeing Flake, but her appeal to Arizonans isn’t ironclad. Although she would’ve likely defeated Senator Flake had he chosen to contest the Republican primary race, she is looking at much stiffer competition in the general election.

Assuming she’s awarded the GOP’s nomination, Ward will face off against U.S. Representative Kyrsten Sinema in a state that saw Trump defeat Clinton by the narrowest of margins. Flake’s seat, in most sober analyses, is ripe to turn blue.

But for now, it remains red, and it remains his. He used his dais to deliver a jeremiad that began as such: “Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough”. This stirring introduction was both overly theatrical and obviously vapid. Like Senator Corker, Jeff Flake has voted with President Trump 92% of the time. His damascene “enough” moment comes only after ten months of exhaustive agreement with the man he now rebuts and detests. He said that “we have fooled ourselves long enough that Trump will return to civility”. He explained that his criticism of the president was “not because I relish criticizing the president…if I have been critical it is because I feel an obligation to do so. The notion that we should say or do nothing in such mercurial behavior is misguided and ahistorical”. It’s unclear to what end Flake said this, for bad behavior and caprice, while objectionable, are not impeachable. Nonetheless, he spoke his piece after having for so long held his peace.

Flake finished by speaking of progeny and the harsh judgment of history. “I have children and grandchildren to answer to” said Flake, “and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent”. Again, complicity only goes so far as your refusal to act otherwise. Continue to support an agenda and a president whom you purportedly disapprove of, and you continue to be a disingenuous knave. The calculus is simple and the children will understand.

It will be interesting to see if, moving forward, other Republicans begin attacking their own.

One can’t help but wonder if Flake and Corker speak for a majority of Republican senators or only for themselves? Is what they’ve expressed publicly the same sentiment most Republicans hold privately? Most importantly, will their imminent departures—and the ways in which they’ve chosen to leave—cause a schism sufficiently large for new niches to form in the GOP? We can only speculate. It seems, though, that for the time being, Trump’s stronghold on the party is resolute. His popularity far exceeds that of most congressmen and women vying for re-election. Flake and Corker may fail to recapture conservatism—this much seems true. They may be doing little more than leaving the Senate as martyrs to the Left.

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