Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) might be having second thoughts about retirement, which could make the upcoming Republican primary for his seat a lot more interesting.
Corker had announced last fall that he would not seek re-election in 2018. The conventional wisdom at the time was that the more establishment-friendly Republican did not want to face a Trumpified primary electorate that demands every party official approach elections and governance the way Donald Trump does, with a hard-right policy agenda and a quiver full of sneering insults to be shot off like a rapid-fire Lenny Bruce routine. Especially since Corker himself has taken some grief from the right over his fights with Trump.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) almost immediately announced she would run for Corker’s seat. Because Blackburn is a Republican in the Trump mold of saying outrageous things that appeal to the right’s culture warriors, one could assume she was practically a shoo-in.
But with the possibility of a huge Democratic wave looming, Blackburn suddenly looks vulnerable. Early polls show her slightly trailing the likely Democratic nominee, former Gov. Phil Bredesen. This has sent party leaders into a panic and led them, according to Politico, to try to change Corker’s mind. And Corker appears to be thinking about it.
If Corker does decide to run, the primary that was already all-but-over could turn into the nastiest fight in Tennessee since Chickamauga, with the winner emerging wounded for the general election. If that happens, it is hard to see this whole blowup as anything other than an unforced error by the GOP. A Tennessee Senate seat should be a safe bet for Republicans. And while Bredesen might have a lead now, the GOP nominee is likely to be favored in the fall, no matter who it is.
Still, with the GOP holding only a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, Republicans do not want to take any chances. The irony is that getting Corker to run again actually risks making things worse. A knockdown, drag-out primary between the two wings of the GOP — the hardcore, uncompromising culture warrior wing represented by Blackburn and the more genteel, business-friendly wing represented by Corker — could help open the door for a Democrat.
The bottom line is that if Corker does decide to run after all, everyone involved in this decision on the Republican side might very well regret ever considering it in the first place.