Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, is calling it quits by refusing to stand for re-election in 2018. As a result, many assume Corker will gradually fade from political life over the next several years. If his incendiary comments against the president are any indication, however, the Foreign Relations Committee chair has no desire to “go gentle into that good night.”
There’s a very real chance Corker will run for president in 2020.
Hear me out.
Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, announced his retirement Tuesday. This was shocking, but not wholly unexpected — Flake had been trailing in election polls by a significant margin for some time. He was unlikely to win a general election in 2018, let alone another Republican primary.
But Corker’s case is different. He’s relatively popular in Tennessee. According to a Vanderbilt University poll, he boasted a 52-percent approval rating in May. Simultaneously, President Donald Trump’s rating has tanked. Data journalism website FiveThirtyEight, which aggregates presidential approval polls, has his approval hovering below 40 percent — the lowest of any president at this point in his first term.
If Corker had wanted to run for re-election, he would’ve easily won. There must be another reason why he chose to abstain.
The most likely explanation? Corker wants to assume leadership of the conservative Never Trump movement, which will undoubtedly seek to topple the president in the 2020 election. Wikipedia, of all places, backs this up:
Beginning in August 2017, reports arose members of the Republican Party were preparing a “shadow campaign” against Trump, particularly from the moderate or establishment wings of the party. A poor showing for the GOP in the 2018 midterm elections may lead to an influx of ambitious politicians vying to reclaim the nomination from Trump, as Arizona Senator John McCain has said “[Republicans] see weakness in this president.” Maine Senator Susan Collins expressed doubts Trump will be the 2020 nominee, stating “it’s too difficult to say.” Meanwhile, Senator Jeff Flake has claimed Trump is “inviting” a primary challenger by the way he is governing.
Potential alternatives to Corker are either compromised or ineffectual. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio failed to gain momentum in last year’s Republican presidential primaries, losing everywhere but his home state. There’s no reason to think he’d do any better in 2020. Sen. Jeff Flake, as previously mentioned, is grossly unpopular, even within his own party and state. And Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic, has been diagnosed with a severe form of brain cancer that is often terminal — he might not even make it through the remainder of his own Senate term.
In three years, someone will attempt to primary Trump, and, if unsuccessful, run an independent bid for the presidency. The only question is who. Corker is one of few with the requisite conservative credibility and a willingness to confront the president. He’s no RINO, and could very well prevail.
Such circumstances would harken back to the 1912 election, when the Republican vote split between the progressive candidate, former President Theodore Roosevelt, and the official party nominee, Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft. Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate, capitalized on this division to win the presidency.
It could happen again.
In a September article, Clare Malone of FiveThirtyEight suggested Corker might already be in full-on kamikaze mode. What better way to torpedo Trump’s credibility than by demolishing his chances of winning re-election? And what better person to do so than Corker?
A Corker candidacy is the best chance true conservatives have of taking down Trumpism once and for all. Don’t be shocked when it happens. ■