A member of Republican leadership in the US Senate has likened his relationship with Donald Trump to a marriage, and said that he was “maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well”.
The Texas senator John Cornyn’s comments, to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, are the latest instance of a Republican under electoral pressure seeking to distance himself from an unpopular president, however gingerly, as polling day looms. Democrats are favoured to take the Senate, potentially leading to unified government in Washington.
“I think what we found is that we’re not going to change President Trump,” Cornyn said. “He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there’s not much in between.
“What I tried to do is not get into public confrontations and fights with him because, as I’ve observed, those usually don’t end too well.”
Trump spent some of the weekend in a public fight with Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Sasse criticised Trump in a call with constituents, lamenting among other things his treatment of women and the way he “kisses dictators’ butts” and “flirts with white supremacists”.
Trump fired back with insults, forcing Republican National Committee chair, Ronna McDaniel, on to the defensive on the Sunday talkshows.
Sasse is more or less assured of re-election in two weeks’ time but his prediction of a “bloodbath” for Senate Republicans with an unpopular president at the top of ticket may have stung Trump – and McDaniel – the most.
Cornyn, a former Senate majority whip, certainly knows what Sasse meant. He leads his Democratic challenger in the usually safe Republican state – but not by much, some polls showing MJ Hegar within the margin of error.
Cornyn told the Fort Worth paper that “when I have had differences of opinion” with Trump, “which I have, [I] do that privately. I have found that has allowed me to be much more effective, I believe, than to satisfy those who say I ought to call him out or get into a public fight with him.”
Cornyn said he was happy to praise Trump publicly when they agreed, such as on judicial nominations and tax cuts. Subjects of disagreement included Covid-19 response; efforts to secure another relief bill; and the use of defense funds for border security.
On trade policy, Cornyn added: “I applaud him for standing up to China but, frankly, this idea that China is paying the price and we’re not paying the price here at home is just not true.”
The comment was mild enough not to immediately rile Trump, who was campaigning in battleground states. The Star-Telegram described Cornyn’s caution, saying he “noted that his friend, former [senator] Bob Corker [of Tennessee], who initially was on cordial terms with Trump’s White House, opted not to run for re-election in 2018 after clashing with Trump on issues such as a border wall.”
Corker was once considered as a running mate or secretary of state. Exasperated to the point of saying the White House was being run like an “adult daycare centre”, he retired in 2018.
Blasting back at Sasse, Trump showed he never forgets a slight. The Nebraska senator, the president tweeted, “seems to be heading down the same inglorious path as former senator Liddle’ Bob Corker”, who became “totally unelectable” because of his criticism “and decided to drop out of politics and gracefully ‘RETIRE’”.
Cornyn, 68, is hoping to defeat his 44-year-old opponent and secure a fourth six-year-term.