Change of plans? Anti-Trumper Bob Corker may be running again for Senate after all

Is it fair to call hm an “anti-Trumper”? Jeff Flake is an anti-Trumper, lord knows, but people like Corker and Lindsey Graham are more nuanced in their approach to POTUS. They interact with him in a Trumpian way, in fact. Sometimes they’ll criticize him harshly, spurring a short war of words with Trump himself, but then they’ll back off and praise him when he does something they like. Carrot and stick. Trump’s the same way, insulting his enemies until they’re conciliatory, then warming up to them to keep them on his side. Ask Mitt Romney what that’s like. Or ask Marco Rubio, who went from declaring Trump unfit for office and retiring from the Senate to endorsing Trump for president and running for reelection in Florida with Trump’s support in the span of about three months in 2016. Corker’s in the same boat now.

His problem if he really is thinking of un-retiring is that MAGA Nation might not follow Trump’s own rules for dealing with critics. Badmouth the leader once and it’ll never be forgotten. (See, e.g., Steve Bannon, who’s in exile after badmouthing merely one member of the Trump family.) And unlike Rubio, Corker would need to win a contested Republican Senate primary to hold his seat. How does he do that in a red state like Tennessee, with Trumpers with long memories eager to see him lose?

But several sources say the issue has come up in recent conversations Corker has had with fellow Tennessean Sen. Lamar Alexander and with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, two of Corker’s friends.

It also came up at least once in a conversation with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, CNN is told, posing a bit of a dilemma.

McConnell likes Corker, and would have preferred that he sought re-election. But once Corker announced he was not running, the GOP establishment quickly rallied behind Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is already in the Senate race and has support across the party’s often fractious spectrum…

CNN is told McConnell’s view is that if Corker is serious, he would need first and foremost to get the President on board.

Asked about that CNN story by local media, Corker’s spokesman confirmed that people have approached him about changing his mind but that he has no plans to do so … “at this point.” Hmmmm.

POTUS’s benediction may be the only thing that can get Trumpers to lay off Corker in a primary. But that’ll never happen, right? Corker’s insulted him publicly, questioning his basic competence last summer and then sneering on Twitter that Trump has turned the White House into a day-care center for adults. There’s no turning back. Except … he’s on good enough terms with Trump at the moment to have hitched a ride on Air Force One with the president just last month. In fact, reports swirled last fall that Trump had asked him repeatedly to run again and pledged to support him if he did. CNN claims that POTUS “will have no part of” a Corker Senate run at this point, but if Corker’s right that Trump was willing to back him before, all it might take is a few rounds of golf to put him back in the mood.

Even if Trump would rather see the seat go to Marsha Blackburn or former Rep. Stephen Fincher, who’s also running in the primary, he may look at the Tennessee race from the perspective of cold expedience and decide on Corker instead. Why? Because the Democratic challenger is unusually formidable for such a red state. It’s Phil Bredesen, the twice-elected former governor who won in a landslide the last time he ran in 2006. One of the biggest problems the out-party has in trying to win a seat held by the other is name recognition; that won’t be a problem for Bredesen. The safe play against a strong challenger is to stick with the incumbent, assuming he’s willing to run.

Trump may figure, though, that that’s unnecessary in this case since Blackburn is a comparatively well-known House Republican and she’s fighting a battle on friendly terrain in a reliably red state. Plus, she’s gone out of her way to position herself as a Trump-ish Republican in hopes of earning POTUS’s endorsement or at least keeping him neutral. If Corker decided to run again and went head-to-head against Blackburn in a primary, there’s no doubt she’d be the choice of populists even if Trump himself remained neutral. That’s why McConnell wants Corker to get Trump’s blessing first, I assume: The party can’t afford a Corker/Blackburn primary war, so if Corker runs he needs Trump’s help to force Blackburn (and Fincher) out of the race. Would Trump really knife Blackburn that way, given that she stands a fair chance of winning the seat? Especially knowing from rough experience how fickle Corker’s support for him is?

The real mystery is why Corker wants to run again. The GOP will almost certainly be back in the minority in the Senate by 2021, if not by 2019. He’s clearly unhappy with Trump’s presidency and there’s no reason to believe the “day-care” aspects of it will get better over time. The party’s spent the past week exposing itself as a gigantic fraud on the priorities to which Corker and his colleagues have spent years paying lip service, like federal spending and deficit reduction. Why does he want another six years, most or all of which would be spent with Democrats in control? Why does he want the aggravation of having to brace himself for the daily presidential tweetstorm? Go be a lobbyist and make a bundle of money instead. There’s nothing left for Republicans to do in government.