By Hastings Wyman –
There is not a big argument for putting a Southerner on the ticket with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. If he can’t carry Dixie, where he cleaned up in the primaries, without putting a down-home Grit by his side, then he’s in big trouble nationwide.
But there is at least one Southern Republican lawmaker who could help Trump significantly, especially with “establishment” GOPers, and that’s US Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. Of course, barring a continuation of the serious split within the Republican Party, the Volunteer State would almost certainly end up in Trump’s column with or without Corker. There is one weakness that Corker would bring to Trump’s candidacy. While Corker has been a conservative lawmaker overall, he has not been one of the Senate’s hard right GOPers and might not help Trump those in the Ted Cruz camp.
In the United States Senate, however, Corker is the go-to guy for his fellow senators (R) on foreign policy and economic issues. He chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he exhibits a solid, fact-based, “America First”-flavored and even bipartisan approach to international issues. When, for example, under the Obama Administration, a U.S. Navy destroyer recently passed near Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea, Corker call the move “an important step in US efforts to defend freedom of navigation.” He iced the cake by adding that the exercises “should be part of routine US patrols to challenge unlawful territorial claims by China” or other nations.”
In furtherance of his role in foreign policy, reports his official biography, Corker has visited some 60 countries. With this experience, he has spoken with Trump and his advisors, offering to advise the New Yorker on foreign policy.
Moreover, Corker is not afraid to challenge his party’s leaders on important foreign policy issues. He defended Trump’s criticism of NATO and told the Washington Post that the New York billionaire’s reluctance to commit ground troops was closer to the policies of former president George H. W. Bush, than that of his son, former president George W. Bush. And he praised Trump’s foreign policy speech to the National Press Club as “a really important step in a good direction.”
Corker’s bona fides on economic policy pre-date his US Senate service. When he was 25, Coker started a construction company with a pick-up truck and $8,000 in personal savings (not a $1 million loan from his father), which grew to operate in 18 states. He later served as Tennessee’s commissioner of finance as well as mayor of Chattanooga.
Corker has used his business acumen in the Senate, where he is an active and influential member of the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate Budget Committee. Both play important roles in US economic policy, including overseeing the federal budget. On the
Banking Committee, Corker was a major participant in the hearings on the 2008 financial crisis and the automobile industry bailout.
Corker has some significant policy differences with The Donald. He has criticized Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigrants to this country. And while Trump has said he would leave Social Security alone, Corker says entitlement reform is critical to getting federal spending under control. He has called the federal budget “a total hoax,” reported the Chattanooga Times Free Press, noting that some 75% of federal spending is on “autopilot.”
Making clear that he is supporting Trump, Corker has urged Republican critics of The Donald to be patient as Trump evolves on policy issues. Corker also said he would not rule out acceptance of a vice-presidential bid by Trump, although he said on NBC that he had “no reason to believe” that Trump was considering him for his running mate.
On balance, this fall’s election will turn on what the voters think of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, not on who they pick for their running mates. The Tennessean can’t compensate for Trump’s shoot-from-the-lip, offensively personal attacks on his critics. But what Corker does offer Trump is a knowledgeable, experience-based history of responsible public service and successful business enterprise. That could go a long way toward helping Trump unite the Republican Party behind him, something he knows he needs to do, but so far hasn’t accomplished. Stay tuned.