The Slatest

Bob Corker Chooses Retirement Over Re-Election Run (Again)

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) speaks on a phone on Capitol Hill January 29, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) speaks on a phone on Capitol Hill.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images

Well, that was fun while it lasted. Sen. Bob Corker has decided that he will still retire after all. The Tennessee Republican had spent the past two weeks publicly flirting with the idea of making a late bid for a third term, but his chief of staff put an end to that speculation on Tuesday morning. “At the end of the day, the senator believes he made the right decision in September and will be leaving the Senate when his term expires at the end of 2018,” Todd Womack told the Tennessean.

In Team Corker’s telling, the Republican senator had reconsidered his decision to retire only because so many voters had urged him to run again. But it’s not clear that Corker was a complete bystander in all this; past reports suggested he may have been having his own second thoughts and was the one to approach his fellow Republicans about the idea. Either way, the general consensus was that for Corker to have a clean shot at winning another term—and with it, potentially preserving the GOP’s control of the Senate—he was going to first need the blessing of Donald Trump, given the pair’s very public feud late last year. Corker had suggested Trump was a child in need of constant supervision and Trump responded by taunting Corker about his height.

Politico reports that Corker had been speaking with the president “with some frequency” of late, possibly in hopes of mending fences, but that the White House ultimately made it clear that Trump would not help Corker in a primary against Rep. Marsha Blackburn. Blackburn, a proudly “politically incorrect” Republican who has branded herself a loyal Trump foot soldier, had a significant lead over Corker in recent primary polls.

Regardless of the why, though, it is the what that matters most here—and that is Corker’s Senate seat. It’s one of three that Democrats are considered to have a decent chance of flipping from red to blue this fall (the others: Nevada and Arizona). And since they need to pick up at least two seats to take control of the Senate, each of those three carries outsize importance to both parties. Corker’s exit spares Republicans a potentially messy primary fight, but it also likely leaves them with a far-right candidate in the general election against former Gov. Phil Bredesen, Democrats’ dream candidate in this race.