Former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, who retired from the Senate in January after what he called "a colorful" and sometimes combative relationship with President Donald Trump, said today he has trouble recognizing either the Republican or Democratic parties of today given their changing positions on trade, deficits and the role of government in the economy.
"I was a Republican in the Senate for 12 years and we cared about fiscal issues, world leadership and free trade," Corker said today in a speech to the Chattanooga Rotary Club. " I look at the Republican Party now and we are isolationist, protectionist and care nothing about keeping these institutions that have kept the world safe in many ways."
But the retired GOP senator was even more skeptical of the move to the left among leading Democrats, including many of the top candidates running for president who Corker said "want to reconfigure our economy overnight."
Corker joked that has been waiting on taking his clothes to the cleaners because "after watching these political races I'm sure in another week or so my dry cleaning is going to be free."
The sharp partisan divide and move to the extremes in both parties is especially evident in the impeachment debate, Corker said. The retired senator and former Senate Foreign Relations chairman repeatedly declined to discuss the allegations against President Trump, but he urged his former colleagues in the Congress not to make statements or early judgments about the impeachment inquiry underway in the U.S. House.
"The Senate is the jury in impeachment and I would just say to my friends on both sides of the aisle that I would say absolutely nothing," he said. "An impeachment is a process where the Congress tries to undo what the electoral process has done before. It is a major undertaking and once you start pulling threads you have no idea where it is going to go."
Corker said has not watched "a single second of cable television since I walked out of the Senate" and he urged other Americans to also avoid the 24-hour cycle of political debate on the cable news outlets.
"I tell my mom who watches cable TV that she should read the paper every morning — read the Wall Street Journal, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Washington Post, The New York Times or the Economist -- and get a real sense of what's happening," he said. "Nothing is going to happen in 24 hours that is going to affect your life. This hyper activity (on the cable shows) is not reality.
Corker said traditional conservatives like the late Chattanooga Free Press Editor Lee Anderson or liberals like the late former Chattanooga Times Publisher Ruth Holmberg "are probably rolling over in their graves" given the changes in partisan politics.
"Both parties are totally different today," he said.
"What happened to the Phil Bredesen-, Ned McWherter- and Jon Kinsey-kind of Democrat?" referring to the moderate former governors and Chattanooga mayor elected as Democrats in Tennessee.
Corker said politicians can and should do more to work together to solve problems.