Trump's self-defeating war

Corker's tumultuous relationship with Trump
Corker's tumultuous relationship with Trump

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Story highlights

  • Scott Jennings: The emergence of two new fronts in Trump's war on the Republican establishment endangers his ability to deliver on his campaign promises
  • Trump needs Corker more than Corker needs him, Jennings writes

Scott Jennings is a CNN contributor and former special assistant to President George W. Bush. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The emergence of two new fronts in President Donald Trump's war on the Republican establishment endangers his ability to deliver on his campaign promises.

Last weekend may prove to have been a pivotal moment in the Trump presidency. It might determine whether he succeeds in enacting his agenda -- or if his presidency will simply be a series of reactions to weather emergencies and world crises.
Trump's Twitter feud with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker laid bare frustrations felt on both sides of the insider/outsider dynamic churning in Washington. For the Trump outsiders, the President's tweets underscored their frustration with a lack of progress on health care and tax reform. For Washington's GOP establishment insiders, Corker's comments highlighted their exasperation with Trump -- who they believe is sabotaging his own agenda and threatening national security.
    Trump needs Corker more than Corker needs Trump, especially now that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman has announced his retirement. In fact, Trump needs all Senate Republicans (minus two) to enact tax reform, which was already on life support before the social media slap fight.
    Add Corker to the list of Senate Republicans with whom the President seems at war. Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina beat him to it. Throw in Rand Paul of Kentucky who, though he appears to have a personal relationship with the President, "... really doesn't help us on anything," according to one senior administration official.
    That makes six of 52 Senate Republicans whose relationship with the President (or disdain for his agenda) has endangered the GOP's ability to keep its campaign promises.
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    Meanwhile, the President's former top strategist -- Steve Bannon -- is now conducting his own "full assault on the Republican establishment," according to NBC reporter Kristin Welker. He's recruiting primary opponents for Republican incumbents, including those in six states: Arizona, Nevada, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming, and Mississippi.
    The six GOP incumbents who find themselves under pressure from Bannon must be wondering what they did to fall out of favor; this group has an average "Trump Score" voting record of 93.5%, according to Nate Silver's tracking. They are voting the way Trump wants but will now face primary opponents who will argue they are insufficiently loyal to the President. All six of them voted for Trump's Obamacare repeal legislation and are most likely solid votes on his tax reform plan, too.
    Only Ted Cruz is getting a pass from Bannon, according to reports, which is curious since he actually votes with Trump less frequently than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
    That's 12 of 52 Republicans who find themselves in Trump World's crosshairs in one way or another. And that doesn't even count McConnell, who has voted with the President 96% of the time, led the charge on filling a Supreme Court vacancy, tried mightily to repeal Obamacare, and is now working feverishly to cobble together the votes on tax reform.
    The President attacked McConnell this summer and apparently holds him responsible for the times when McCain, Collins, and others on Trump's naughty list didn't go along with his program. I suspect the President's relationship with these wayward senators has more to do with their voting records than their relationships with McConnell.
    These people are supposed to be one big happy Republican family, although some are distant cousins who have clearly never met and are now forced to sit next to each other at Thanksgiving dinner. To succeed in passing an agenda, this family must pull itself together sooner rather than later. Trump's war on Corker and Bannon's war on the establishment complicate matters even further.
    Meanwhile, the average Republican voter, who cast a vote for sweeping change in 2016, must be thinking: "What the hell is going on here?"