At first glance, the continuing dispute between President Trump and Sen. Bob Corker — or "Liddle' Bob Corker" as the president referred to the 5-foot-7-inch Tennessee senator on Tuesday — might seem like a trivial Twitter feud. But it is not. It is the latest wake-up call to somnolent Republicans about the dangerous path ahead if they don't publicly separate themselves from the irresponsible man currently leading the country.
Corker's tweets on the subject have been mildly amusing — comparing the White House to an adult day care center and noting, with reference to Trump's outbursts, "Someone obviously missed their shift this morning."
But Corker's underlying message was anything but funny. Indeed, after this weekend's Twitter exchange, Corker expanded on his reservations about Trump in an interview with the New York Times that was depressing precisely because it was so dispassionate and yet so chilling at the same time. Drawing on his experience as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Corker expressed concern that the president had made reckless comments about other countries that could put this country on the path to "World War III."
Good for Corker for speaking up. Now it's time for the rest of his colleagues to do so as well. It is well-known — beyond question, in fact — that many Republicans in Congress and around the country and even in the president's own Cabinet consider him a potential menace to the country: an under-qualified man of poor judgment, a bellicose hothead who returns small slights with disproportionate attacks. Even his own secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, reportedly called Trump a "moron" after a meeting in July.
Concerns about the president's judgment are entirely reasonable. How could he have said last week that "only one thing" will solve the problem of North Korea's nuclear threat, an apparent reference to war — or that Tillerson was "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with Kim Jong Un? Why did he warn in a speech at the United Nations that the U.S. would "have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea" if it was forced to defend itself or its allies? Why does he call Kim "Little Rocket Man" in repeated tweets? Such taunts and threats are irresponsible.
Corker also said, "I don't know why the president tweets out things that are not true. You know he does it, everyone knows he does it, but he does."
That Trump tells untruths won't come as a surprise to readers of this page, which ran a series of editorials titled "Our Dishonest President." It's remarkable, however, that a leader of the president's party in the Senate treats his mendacity so matter-of-factly.
Corker said that most of his Republican colleagues "understand the volatility that we're dealing with." Given that, they should make it clear to the president that his reckless statements about war and peace are dangerous and that he should let his generals and diplomats — the "best people" he boasts about hiring — do their jobs.
Granted, speaking up may require courage from those Republicans who, unlike Corker, plan to seek reelection and, more to the point, renomination in a party in which Trump remains popular. But it is their responsibility as elected leaders to stand up for this country and to protect it from harm. This is not a time for equivocation or neutrality; lawmakers — Republicans as well as Democrats — should not put political expediency or their own career concerns ahead of the nation's needs.
It may be foolish to expect that a more forceful critique from congressional Republicans will force Trump to change his ways and start adhering to the norms of governing.
But that doesn't relieve them of their responsibility to those who elected them. They must explain to their constituents just who Trump is, and then they must call him out publicly and unmistakably.