Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker is hitting the campaign trail today with Donald Trump, planning stops at Trump Tower in New York and in North Carolina. Corker, who’s been mooted as a potential running mate for Trump, has gone back and forth on the presumptive Republican nominee over the course of the campaign — reflecting the party establishment’s discomfort with its standard-bearer but also that a Trump-Corker ticket would be a clear step toward healing the divides and unifying the party.
Back in May, Corker, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was one of select Republicans in Senate to support (not endorse) Trump, offering to build his foreign policy platform.
But after Trump’s comments on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, which garnered criticism from both sides of the aisle, Corker warned the Trump campaign about his "inappropriate" comments: "Donald Trump has two to three weeks to fix his campaign or risk losing enough Republican support that it would doom his run for the presidency," Corker told Yahoo News.
In recent weeks Corker has been more congratulatory, praising the Trump campaign for firing Corey Lewandowski as part of a clear pivot to the general election, and calling Trump’s performance in Scotland — where Trump said the decline of the pound after the historic Brexit vote would be good for his business — one of the businessman’s "best events."
It’s clear that Corker is trying to strike a balance between supporting Trump’s unorthodox presidential campaign style and staying wary of the presumptive nominee’s more inflammatory statements. Corker still denies being on any Trump administration shortlist, but he continues to be both vocal about Trump’s campaign moves and interested in public appearances with Trump — setting himself up as a bridge between Trump and the party’s more conventional elected officials.
Who is Bob Corker?
Corker is a 63-year-old Southern man, with a small-business start that has led to a growing political career. Born in South Carolina and raised in Tennessee, he began his career in construction, eventually expanding his own company to 18 states.
He entered politics in 1994 with a hiccup, running a failed Senate campaign to replace then-incumbent Democratic Sen. Jim Sasser. But it’s the only failed political campaign Corker has even run.
From 2001 to 2005, Corker served as the mayor of Chattanooga, where he was widely regarded as a successful leader of the city, succeeding in a mass redevelopment project of the city’s waterfront and touting improvements to the school system. When his term was over, both Democrats and Republicans in city council wanted him to stick around, the Tennessean reported.
By most accounts, Corker has friends and enemies on both sides of the aisle. When he won his second bid for Senate in 2006, staunch conservatives chastised him for being too moderate. Corker has been a relatively constructive interlocutor for the Obama administration on foreign policy in particular, in ways that have earned him heat from the right.
He was once neutral on the Iran nuclear deal, and though he eventually came out against it, he was in many ways instrumental in its passage through Congress. He authored compromise legislation that allowed Congress to have a vote of disapproval on the deal, which Obama would then be able to veto with the support of Congress’s Democratic majority. This let Republicans go on the record with their disapproval and set up Democratic incumbents to face Iran-related attack ads, but also ensured that the deal would go into effect.
Last year, Corker also said he was not concerned about the 10,000 Syrian refugees slated to enter the United States and expressed faith in the vetting process.
But his conservatism has roots. He has been openly tough on illegal immigration, voted against federal funding of "sanctuary cities," has an A rating from the National Rifle Organization, and has voted to reduce corporate regulations and for tax cuts. On social issues, his views on abortion have shifted rightward; he now states that he believes life begins at conception.
The pros of a Corker vice presidential pick
In May, Politico reported that Corker was considered a strong choice for Trump’s vice presidential ticket:
Corker, among the wealthiest members of Congress, spent most of his life in business, and his bio says he brings a "results-driven businessman’s perspective." Corker — age 63, to Trump’s 69 — surprised many in Washington by lavishing on-camera praise on Trump’s foreign-policy speech two weeks ago.
A Republican who knows Corker well said: "He’s an independent guy — kind of a tough guy — who’s not afraid to swim upstream. He’s frustrated by being in the Senate and not getting anything done. I think he’d really lean into this. He’s not afraid to buck the old guard. And he’s no dummy: He jumped out on the Trump thing early."
In terms of political ideology, he seems to fit in with the Trump mantra. When Corker got to the Senate, "he was frustrated by the form and the lack of substance in the Senate," political consultant Tom Ingram told the Tennessean. Corker wants to get things done and work with the other side of the aisle to do it. Trump says he wants to bring everyone together to make great deals.
Corker could be the Beltway politician, trying to be an outsider, that Trump wants to surround himself with, but it’s not a perfect match: The senator has a record that Trump’s campaign platform doesn’t fully fit in with.
The cons of a Corker vice presidential pick
As Trump is trying to convince Republicans he is a true conservative, Corker might not be the best fit for a running mate.
Corker’s involvement with the Iran deal — which Trump calls the "worst" deal made in the history of deals — could cause some friction between the two. Corker’s more relaxed attitude about Syrian refugees goes directly against Trump’s more fearmongering tactics toward immigration from the Middle East.
Domestically, Corker has struck ire among union workers, particularly the United Auto Workers, as he fought against the unionization of workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. While United Auto Workers has endorsed Clinton, Trump has been very vocal about his interests in keeping automotive and manufacturing jobs in the United States.
And then there are the possible skeletons in Corker’s closet. Ever since his first Senate bid in 2006, Corker has been under intensified scrutiny for potential fraud.
The FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission are scrutinizing Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker’s personal finances, including stock transactions involving one of the nation’s top developers of shopping centers and malls, according to multiple sources familiar with the probe.
Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a potential vice presidential pick, failed to report millions of dollars in assets and income on his annual financial disclosure until The Wall Street Journal revealed the discrepancy last fall. In the wake of that report, Corker was forced to revise years' worth of disclosure reports.
To a more conventional nominee, this sort of baggage might be more trouble than it’s worth. But compared with the endless swirl of controversies around Trump, it’s peanuts. And while "do no harm" is normally solid advice for picking a VP, Trump could really use a nominee with some upside in terms of mending fences with the party establishment — especially in terms of fundraising. Corker seems like the most mainstream Washington Republican who’s been eager to embrace Trump, and that may be reason enough for Trump to embrace him back.