That Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling the president of the United States a “[expletive] moron” is the least newsworthy of reported statements about Donald Trump the past week illustrates just how unnerving things have gotten within the Trump administration. And it can’t be chalked up to typical partisan sniping, given that the alarm bells are being rung by people who helped elect Trump and have defended him from political attacks.
The most scathing critique has come from Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Corker is a respected member of the GOP establishment who called for the party to unify behind Trump during the presidential campaign even as other top Republicans were casting about for alternatives. Later, Corker was considered a candidate for vice president and secretary of state. He now believes the president’s recklessness might put the U.S. “on the path to World War III.”
It is a stunning assessment from a Trump ally, especially given that what Corker said publicly, many Republican officials say privately. Corker’s comments follow previous reporting about top officials such as Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin deciding they would protect each other from the president’s spontaneous attacks. Other officials decided among themselves that at least one of them should always be around to keep the chaos the president might cause at bay, to contain him as though you would a toddler known to have unpredictable temper tantrums.
And yet, most Republican leaders have decided to ignore the warning signs. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, supposedly one of the party’s most serious foreign policy voices, tweeted Monday how much he enjoyed a round of golf with Trump and how well the president played. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could only muster a “Senator Corker is a valuable member of the Senate Republican caucus … and a particularly important player as we move to the floor on the budget next week.” Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, like most others, has seemingly taken a vow of silence.
This should not be seen solely through the lens of whether Trump’s behavior will imperil the White House’s ability to shepherd through that elusive major legislative victory – like tax reform – Republicans are clamoring for. It’s more serious than that, particularly knowing that dealing with the cryptic leader of North Korea – who has nuclear weapons at his disposal – requires a delicate dance, not a president who blithely talks about “the calm before the storm” in front of a gaggle of military members.
The lack of political and moral courage by those who have a chance to head off the danger Trump’s behavior poses is disturbing. Corker has spoken up. More of his colleagues must. And soon.