“It’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be purportedly of the same party”, Bob Corker told reporters.
The Tennessee Republican occupies the increasingly lonely position of an elected Republican who is willing to publicly defy the president. Lent a freer tongue by his decision to not seek re-election, Mr Corker has sharply questioned Mr Trump’s decisions and said the administration appeared to be “just making stuff up as they go along”.
Results from the previous night’s polls demonstrated how politically perilous it can be for Republicans to oppose Mr Trump – and the potential benefits of rallying behind a president who has a potent ability to galvanise the conservative base.
In South Carolina, incumbent Republican Rep Mark Sanford lost his re-election bid to a challenger, state legislator Katie Arrington, who had savaged Mr Sanford for his habit of criticising Mr Trump and positioned herself as a loyal supporter of the president’s agenda.
“We are the party of President Donald J Trump”, Ms Arrington declared after her victory.
Hours before the polls closed, Mr Trump weighed in with a tweet attacking Mr Sanford as “very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA” – the acronym for Mr Trump’s campaign-trail slogan of “Make America Great Again” – and encouraged voters to rally behind Ms Arrington.
Voters in Virginia nominated a Republican senate candidate, Corey Stewart, who has enthusiastically embraced Mr Trump and is aligned with the president’s hardline approach to immigration. Mr Stewart has also embraced maintaining symbols of Confederate history, echoing Mr Trump’s complaints about removing monuments to Confederate leaders, and has associated with the architect of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
The president issued a tweet congratulating Mr Stewart, who had chaired Mr Trump’s campaign apparatus in Virginia, and saying he had “a major chance of winning”.
But other Republicans were less sanguine.National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, told reporters that the party did not plan to spend money on the Virginia Senate race, backing away from a contest in a typically competitive state.
“I am extremely disappointed that a candidate like Corey Stewart could win the Republican nomination for US Senate”, said former Virginia lieutenant governor Bill Bolling, a Republican. “This is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served. Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight”.