Corker’s defection — previewed last week when he said, “I think Secretary (Rex) Tillerson, Secretary (Jim) Mattis and Chief of Staff (John) Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos” — is particularly significant, given that, until recently, he had been one of the mainstream Republicans normalizing Trump.
Back in April 2016, when Trump was not yet the Republican nominee, Corker gushed that he saw “a great deal of evolution taking place” and that a recent “foreign policy speech was a step in the right direction.” He urged Never-Trump Republicans like me “just to chill” and foresaw “a coming together taking place.”
In fairness to Corker, he was only one of many Republicans who operated under what might be called the Von Papen Hypothesis. Franz von Papen was the aristocratic military officer who convinced other members of the conservative German establishment to support Adolf Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in 1933 on the assumption that the clownish populist could be controlled by more moderate officials.
Trump has been dissuaded from doing some of the crazy things he hinted during the campaign that he might do — for instance, he has affirmed NATO’s Article 5, he hasn’t lifted sanctions on Russia, and he hasn’t imposed tariffs on China for its (non-existent) currency manipulation. The Afghanistan policy review this summer showed that a solid front of opposition from his advisers could dissuade Trump from pulling U.S. troops out and turning the mission over to mercenaries — a bad idea if there was one.
The selection process for an open Supreme Court demonstrated showed that Trump could appoint someone who was well qualified, even if far to the right.
But his advisers could not dissuade Trump from pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Paris climate accord, or soon the Iran nuclear deal: all accords that remain in America’s interest.
It was this last instance of misbehavior that seems to have pushed Corker into open opposition, fearing, with good cause, that Trump may very well trigger a second Korean war.
There are, it seems, sharp limits to what even the best-intentioned advisers can do. At the end of the day, Trump is commander-in-chief. He can give binding orders. And that’s a terrifying thought.
Corker says — and who is to doubt it? — that most of the Senate’s Republicans agree with him about Trump’s incapacity to exercise his office wisely. But with a few honorable exceptions, such as Sen. Jeff Flake, few others are as bold as he is in speaking out — and in his case it’s only because he is not seeking reelection.
The Constitutional standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors” essentially means anything that Congress wants it to, and it is certainly broad enough to remove a president if he is judged unfit to control the nuclear arsenal.
As long as Republicans remain in control, of course, they won’t impeach. But for the good of the republic, they should. By not acting, they are violating their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution at a time when the number one threat to the Republic is the occupant of the Oval Office.