On Corker, Trump and Alabama’s Moore-Strange runoff

The Washington Post has a quote attributed to Tennessee U.S. Sen. Bob Corker when he urged President Donald Trump to campaign in Alabama for Sen. Luther Strange in a Republican primary runoff election set for Tuesday:

“You’ve got to go,” the Tennessee Republican told Trump, according to people briefed on the exchange. “We need you there.”

That’s part of a story on how Washington Republican leaders persuaded Trump to campaign in Alabama, despite the president’s misgivings.

And here’s an excerpt from a Roll Call article this week:

When Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker asked President Donald Trump to campaign for Alabama Sen. Luther Strange ahead of next week’s Senate Republican runoff, he might have had a little self-preservation in mind.

A win by Roy Moore, the controversial former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, would throw a wrench into the deliberative body in which the moderate Tennessee Republican serves. But a Moore victory could also embolden primary challengers to other sitting senators, like Corker.

Corker said Tuesday he hasn’t yet reached a decision about seeking a third term, and he wouldn’t comment on reports that Trump asked him to run for re-election at their meeting last week.

He’s already facing at least one declared primary challenger. Tennessee is familiar with contentious primaries, especially in open-seat races. But should he run again, Corker can find solace in the fact that there are at least two more Republicans interested in taking him on, which would split the anti-incumbent vote.

In today’s environment, “you can make anyone look like a squish,” one GOP operative said of Corker. “And sure, you can make that argument, but if the president comes in and says, ‘Corker’s my buddy,’ it would be hard to beat him.”

Corker went from campaigning with Trump and wanting to be secretary of State to saying the president lacked competence in the wake of his bungled remarks about the unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump won Tennessee by 26 points last fall, and he retaliated against Corker by tweeting that the state wasn’t happy with him.

The two appeared to have mended relations enough for an hour-long meeting last week, and both national and Tennessee Republicans believe Trump will be there for the senator — or at the very least, not there for his potential primary opponents.

But the president is nothing if not unpredictable, and it’s unclear how much former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and other outside forces could decide to target Corker.

For some primary voters in the state, Corker’s stature as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee makes him too much of a Washington insider.

Note: Both articles cited above were published prior to Trump’s Friday night campaign rally for Strange. Excerpt from the Washington Post’s follow-up report on that event:

The endorsement of ‘Big Luther’ could prove to be a big boost for the interim Alabama senator, who is trailing his opponent, former state judge Roy Moore, in some public polls. But even Trump seemed unsure that the endorsement was the right move.

“I’ll be honest, I might have made a mistake,” Trump told the crowd at one point during his nearly 90 minutes of remarks.

“If Luther doesn’t win they’re not going to say, we picked up 25 points in a short period of time,” he added, referring to the media. “If his opponent wins, I’m going to be here campaigning like hell for him.”

After some musing, he seemed to catch himself.

“Luther will definitely win,” Trump said.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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