Bob Corker was calm, candid and quite funny in his talk Thursday at UT’s Baker Center. It was billed as a lecture, but Corker spoke for just five minutes before opening the floor for questions. The students were not shy.
“Will you run for president?” was on everybody’s mind. Corker didn’t say yes or no. He simply said, “It appears to me today that … it’s not practical. I don’t see a path to success.”
Corker served four years as mayor of Chattanooga. He served 12 years in the U.S. Senate. His business background is in real estate – shopping center construction and property management. He said he didn’t study hard when he was a student at UT, earning a degree in industrial management. He was eager to finish school, to start his business career. (Estimated net worth in 2008 was $19 million.)
So, he arrived in Washington with limited knowledge of history. He landed a spot on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and ended his term as the committee chair. He traveled to 79 countries, some of them many times, learning the history/culture/leaders of friends and foes.
He explained this to a kid who observed that he didn’t seem to be a good fit with foreign relations. “I surprise myself with what I know,” Corker said.
Another student asked about the relative threat to the United States from Russia and China.
“Russia is a nuisance,” said Corker. “Its economy is the size of Italy’s. And who takes Italy seriously?”
China, though, is “a whole different picture.” Corker said China’s one-party rulers think American democracy is outmoded. With politicians here in constant campaign mode, “We’re not making the hard decisions that we need to make.”
He said many votes in Washington were “a close call.” And decisions are made at lunch. “The Republicans eat together on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The Democrats eat together on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We never all eat together.”
Corker and Trump: “The beginning of the turning point” came after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Trump said there was blame on both sides. Corker said the president had not yet demonstrated the stability nor the competence to be successful.
On Oct. 4, 2017 (after he had announced he would not seek re-election), Corker said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “are all who separate us from chaos.”
Ironically, all three are now gone.
After the criticism, Corker said, he continued to talk with Trump and White House officials. “We (he and Trump) went up and down. Could I have done more? I did the best I could.”