President Donald Trump on Friday fired back at U.S. Sen. Bob Corker's comments questioning the president's competence and stability, suggesting voters in the Volunteer State are not happy with Corker's criticism.
In an early morning tweet, Trump said Corker's call last week for "radical change" in the White House was "strange" and wondered why Corker was so critical of him when he was asking Trump's advice about whether to run for a third term in the Senate next year.
"Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18," Trump tweeted on Friday. "Tennessee not happy!"
Last week, Corker told the Rotary Club of Chattanooga Trump "has not demonstrated that he understands the character of the nation" and often "doubles down to try to make a wrong a right," including some of the president's comments about the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., two weeks ago.
Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was quick to praise the Trump administration Friday for imposing financial sanctions against Venezuela, calling the measure "carefully calibrated" and appropriate to "send a strong signal to the Maduro regime while still allowing for much-needed humanitarian assistance."
After talking with Vice President Mike Pence Friday, Corker said he "applauds the Trump administration for standing with the Venezuelan people."
Corker said last week that he talks with the president and White House officials as much as anyone in the U.S. Senate and President Trump has hardly made any major decisions without previously talking with the Tennessee Republican.
Nonetheless, Corker warned in May that the Trump White House was in "a downward spiral" and said last week that Trump "has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence, that he needs in order to be successful."
Corker is among a handful of Republican senators who President Trump has tweeted criticism at after the GOP lawmakers made critical comments about the White House. Trump's blast at Corker Friday appeared to be less strident than earlier criticisms the president made of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham after those senators criticized Trump.
"It is rather extraordinary to have a Senator from the same party as the president question his stability and competence, and to have the president of the United States tweeting against senators from his own party," said Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "But we are in unusual times and it's hard to say what the impact from these types of comments might be in a month or two, let alone when the next election comes."
Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, has yet to announce his re-election plans for next year. But Corker has raised more than $7 million for his re-election campaign and told reporters last week to expect an announcement in the near future.
Some Republicans don't like Corker's blast at Trump and indicated that they may challenge the two-term Republican in the GOP primary next August.
"I am still considering very seriously running [against Corker] as a result of many, many calls, especially every time that Sen. Corker feels compelled to publicly criticize or try to shame the president," said Joe Carr, a former Tennessee state representative who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in 2014 and U.S. Rep. Diane Black last year. "I think the president was rather restrained in his tweet [about Corker] and was absolutely correct. I think Sen. Corker's comments were wrong and were based on willful ignorance."
Carr said Corker "went out of his way to be overly friendly and cooperative with President Obama and he is going out of his way and being overly adversarial and critical of President Trump. A lot of us in Tennessee, quite frankly, are tired of it," Carr said.
Larry Crim, the CEO of Christian Counseling Centers of America Inc, and president of Veterans Comprehensive Network Inc., has already picked up papers to run next year in the GOP primary against Corker, who he has denounced as a career politician.
"Status quo politicians in Washington, like Corker and McConnell, would never have had the courage Trump displayed to take on the establishment or his mental fortitude to cope with the predictable resistance to change which ensued," Crim said in a statement Friday.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also criticized Corker's comment about the president's competency, calling it "a ridiculous and outrageous claim not worthy of a response."
Corker's chief of staff, Todd Womack, declined any comment on Friday.
However, Womack did challenge an automated telephone survey of 663 Tennessee registered voters conducted by Public Policy Polling and funded by the liberal health care advocacy group Save My Care. The survey found only 34 percent of those surveyed approved of Corker's job performance, compared with 47 percent who said they disapproved.
Womack called the survey an "error-ridden push poll" that "is not worth the paper it's printed on."
Surveys from this spring and summer, conducted by Vanderbilt University and the nonpartisan Morning Consult for Politico, showed Corker with 52 percent job approval.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340.