A feisty 'Liddle Bob' trades shots with Trump

Robert Houk • Oct 15, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Former Congressman Stephen Fincher was in our area last week to (as he put) hear what Tennesseans expect of their next U.S. senator. Fincher, a West Tennessee native who lives in Crockett County, said he is considering a bid next year for the seat Bob Corker now occupies in the Senate.

So far, Fincher says he has learned Tennesseans want Republicans to “stop fighting” with President Trump and to carry out his agenda.

“They want someone who acts like an adult,” he said.

Meanwhile, Corker (who was one of the first top Republicans in Tennessee to back Trump) said it is the president who needs to start acting like an adult. He and the president engaged in a number of testy exchanges last week. Corker told The New York Times he believes the White House has become “an adult day care center.” Trump shot back on Twitter by referring to Corker as “Liddle Bob.”

Corker — who is not seeking re-election — was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 by beating his Democratic opponent, Harold Ford Jr. That race is best remembered for an ad produced by the Republican National Committee, which pundits said was one of the vilest and most race-baiting campaign commercials of that election year.

The dialogue in the spot came from actors reading from a script prepared by the RNC. The ad aired over and over again on TV stations across Tennessee despite Corker’s timid protests that it was “tacky.”

The ad used innuendo, particularly in the form of a provocative white woman telling viewers she had hung out with Ford (who was vying to become the first black candidate to be elected to a statewide office in Tennessee) at a Playboy party. The spot ended with the same woman breathlessly imploring Ford (who was single at the time) to “call me.”

It was the same tactic the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms used in North Carolina in 1990 when he found himself behind in the polls to former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt (who was vying to become that state’s first black U.S. senator).

The tone of the 2006 campaign wasn’t surprising. The former Chattanooga mayor had already slugged it out in an equally tough Republican Primary (where his opponents charged that he was not conservative enough to represent Tennessee) before meeting Ford in the general election.

I recall Corker’s first bid for the U.S. Senate back in 1994. A disciple of Howard Baker and Lamar Alexander, Corker was a new face in state politics. Corker had done very well for himself as a developer, and gave Dr. Bill Frist (another well-to-do Republican who would go on to unseat the longtime Democratic incumbent, Jim Sasser) fits in that GOP primary.

Corker’s campaign style matched his personality — calculating, shrewd and tenacious. He liked being the underdog, and relished in delivering pithy lines on the campaign trail. Oddly enough, his recent back-and-forth with Trump on Twitter and in the press reminds me of the scrappy Corker I saw on the campaign trail in 1994.

Could this feud with the president be Corker’s dress rehearsal for a bid for the White House in 2020?


Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at [email protected]

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