It’s been a difficult week for Senate Republicans. Senator Luther Strange, a heavy favorite by the Republican mainstream to win the Alabama primary, lost to former State Supreme Court justice Roy Moore by a wide margin. This comes after the failure of a last minute attempt to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, an effort led by Senators Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham.
Now, a prominent Republican Senator has announced his retirement.
Senator Bob Corker has announced that, at the conclusion of his term in 2018, he will not seek re-election. First elected in 2006, he currently is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman. At one point, he was reportedly considered to serve as Secretary of State under President Donald Trump, a position that eventually went to Rex Tillerson.
The opening creates two problems for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment.
First, the recent loss of Senator Luther Strange almost certainly opens the door for anti-establishment primary challenges. Many enraged populists will undoubtedly cease on the momentum that Moore has created with his big win over Strange. Although Corker is not running for re-election, there will be a difficulty in the more moderate mainstream as they attempt to maintain control of the seat.
Prior to the announcement, a conservative primary challenge to Senator Corker had widely been discussed, especially after a summer feud with President Donald Trump. Corker bowing out early lends credence to these concerns, as he may be leaving to avoid the anticipated humiliation and heartbreak of being disgraced and unseated.
Second, who will take over on the foreign relations committee as chairman?
Retaining the seat was obviously going to be difficult for Leader McConnell and his brand of moderate Republicans. The loss of Strange and the departure of Corker undoubtedly makes the job much more difficult for a struggling Republican establishment.