President Donald Trump lashed out at two Republican senators after the pair sounded an alarm Tuesday about President Trump’s fitness for office and warned that his actions were degrading and dangerous to the country — an extraordinary breach that threatens his legislative agenda and further escalates the civil war tearing apart the Republican Party.
Trump commented on Twitter Wednesday about Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Trump says both are not running for re-election because ‘‘they had zero chance of being elected.’’ He added: ‘‘Now act so hurt & wounded!’’
Trump continued to say that a Tuesday meeting with GOP senators was, with the exception of Flake and Corker, ‘‘a love fest with standing ovations and great ideas for USA!’’
The reason Flake and Corker dropped out of the Senate race is very simple, they had zero chance of being elected. Now act so hurt & wounded!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2017
The meeting with Republican Senators yesterday, outside of Flake and Corker, was a love fest with standing ovations and great ideas for USA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2017
Jeff Flake, with an 18% approval rating in Arizona, said "a lot of my colleagues have spoken out." Really, they just gave me a standing O!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2017
Senator Flake, delivering an emotional speech from the Senate floor Tuesday, announced that he would not seek reelection next year. He said Trump’s behavior is ‘‘dangerous to our democracy’’ and summoned fellow Republican leaders to speak out about the president’s conduct.
Sequence Announcing retirement, Flake assails Trump’s ‘disregard of truth and decency’
‘‘It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end,’’ Flake said. He added, ‘‘Politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity.’’
The charged remarks from Flake — a totem of traditional conservatism who has repeatedly spoken out about his isolation in Trump’s GOP — came hours after Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee questioned the president’s stability and competence, reigniting a deeply personal feud with the president.
Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee who also will not run for reelection, told reporters in assessing Trump’s nine-month tenure, ‘‘I’ve seen no evolution in an upward way. As a matter of fact, it seems to me it’s almost devolving.’’
With their distress calls, Flake and Corker joined a chorus of mainstream political leaders newly emboldened to excoriate Trump. Last week, former presidents George W. Bush, a Republican, and Barack Obama, a Democrat, both indirectly rebuked Trump’s deportment and warned of peril for the nation under his watch, as did Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who thundered about the rise of what he called ‘‘half-baked, spurious nationalism.’’
The raw candor from two retiring senators came on a day when Trump made a rare trip to the Capitol for an intended show of party unity, lunching privately with Republican senators to rally support for his plan to cut taxes.
For a Republican Party that has been riven by internal turmoil for nearly a decade, the Flake-Corker rupture with Trump exacerbated the ferocious war between the party’s seasoned leaders and its antiestablishment forces, now rallying under the banner of Trumpism. Polls show the overwhelming majority of Republican voters back Trump, and the fact that two of the president’s most vocal critics in the Senate are retiring underscores how dangerous it is for politicians seeking reelection to break with the president and risk the wrath of his loyal supporters.
Flake’s 18-minute speech was perhaps the most sweeping indictment of Trump delivered by a Republican to date. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Flake, 54, spoke with bewilderment and sadness, his voice cracking at times, about what he viewed as the withering of morality and civility in the national dialogue.
‘‘We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals,’’ Flake said. ‘‘We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency.’’
Flake added, ‘‘We must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.’’
Some Republican elder statesmen who have been deeply critical of Trump celebrated Flake’s remarks and called on other elected Republicans to further distance the party from the president.
‘‘Am I concerned about what are we supposed to do for the next three-plus years with this man in the White House? Yes, I’m very concerned,’’ said John Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri and US ambassador to the United Nations. ‘‘But the best I can think of right now is simply making it clear to the American people that the Republican Party is what it has been in the past, and that is not Donald Trump.’’
However, a crop of insurgent candidates inspired by former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon is emerging nationally. From Alabama to Mississippi to Nevada, these contenders are hoping to disrupt the 2018 midterm elections. They could determine whether the GOP maintains its narrow majorities in both the Senate and House.
Bannon claimed victory with Flake’s departure. ‘‘Many more to come,’’ Bannon predicted in a text message.
Recent polls showed Flake trailing the leading Democratic Senate candidate, Representative Kyrsten Sinema, as well as potential GOP primary rivals.
At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Flake’s and Corker’s comments were ‘‘petty’’ and suggested that they were retiring because they could not win reelection. She boasted that Trump was more popular in Arizona and Tennessee, both states he carried in 2016, than the two departing senators.
Tuesday’s thunderclap exposed the threadbare relationship Trump has with the GOP. At the closed-door lunch, Trump received a standing ovation from Republican senators.
So nice being with Republican Senators today. Multiple standing ovations! Most are great people who want big Tax Cuts and success for U.S.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2017
Yet for months, many of those lawmakers privately have seethed at the president’s actions and language.
Flake published a best-selling book this summer, ‘‘Conscience of a Conservative,’’ that chastised the president’s character and ideology, stunning his colleagues and stoking Trump’s anger. The president vowed to work to defeat him if he sought reelection in 2018.
Corker said that Trump was ‘‘utterly untruthful’’ and called him ‘‘the L-word’’; expressed hope that he would stand down to let Congress formulate a tax plan without him; said he should ‘‘leave it to the professionals’’ to handle the North Korea nuclear crisis; said he was not a role model for children; and urged West Wing aides to ‘‘figure out ways of controlling him.’’
Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDaycareStaff— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) October 24, 2017
The comments seemed to enrage Trump, who responded with several tweets, calling the short-statured senator ‘‘liddle’’ and ‘‘a lightweight,’’ as well as ‘‘incompetent.’’
Bob Corker, who helped President O give us the bad Iran Deal & couldn't get elected dog catcher in Tennessee, is now fighting Tax Cuts....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2017
...Corker dropped out of the race in Tennesse when I refused to endorse him, and now is only negative on anything Trump. Look at his record!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2017
Isn't it sad that lightweight Senator Bob Corker, who couldn't get re-elected in the Great State of Tennessee, will now fight Tax Cuts plus!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2017
Sen. Corker is the incompetent head of the Foreign Relations Committee, & look how poorly the U.S. has done. He doesn't have a clue as.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2017
...the entire World WAS laughing and taking advantage of us. People like liddle' Bob Corker have set the U.S. way back. Now we move forward!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2017