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Former Senator Bob Corker Discusses Trump, Primaries at Harvard Event

The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in 2017.
The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in 2017. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By James S. Bikales, Crimson Staff Writer

Former Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) discussed transitioning from the corporate world to politics and President Donald Trump’s foreign policy at an Institute of Politics event Monday evening.

More than 70 people attended Corker’s conversation with Belfer Center Director and former Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, which was entitled “Reflections on a Life of Leadership.” Carter said he invited Corker to speak near the end of the school year because this is often the time that many people are thinking about where to go next in their lives.

Corker opened the discussion with a detailed account of his career journey, from owning a construction company to being elected to public office. He called public service “absolutely phenomenal” and encouraged audience members to consider it “at some juncture in life.”

“I did not come from a family that ever thought about being in the political arena, but my life has been enriched,” he said.

After two terms, Corker decided not to run for re-election last year despite holding powerful positions in the Senate, Foreign Relations Committee Chair. Considered by many to be a moderate Republican, Corker repeatedly spoke out against Trump’s policy decisions in his final two years in office.

Corker said his decision to leave the Senate was not because he was disillusioned with politics, but because he promised Tennesseans before entering office that he would serve only two terms.

Throughout his time in office, Corker was known for bringing together politicians from both sides of the aisle. Corker said the “extremes driving the primaries” in past elections are not necessarily reflective of the “civility” he saw in the halls of Congress.

“Washington more closely reflects the American people than they would like to wish,” Corker said.

He did, however, characterize Trump as a “populist” and said Trump “purposely, as a governing model, is dividing.”

“To purposefully undermine the institutions of government for your own strengthening of your political standing is just foreign to me,” Corker said.

Carter said he hopes the 2020 presidential election will be a “real debate on solving problems,” and holding a Republican primary despite Trump being an incumbent might be “useful” to this end.

“Otherwise I think it could end up being an extremely low level race where there’s no real discussion about solving problems,” Corker said.

Shantel Hebert-Magee, a research fellow at the School of Public Health who attended the talk, said that it was important to hear Corker’s perspective at Harvard and in Boston, which both tend to skew liberal.

“To get someone who is a conservative to speak on issues and know their optics and viewpoints, I think it’s important in order for us to have any kind of meaningful discussion,” she said.

Hebert-Magee added that she agreed with some of Corker’s views, but disagreed in particular with his assessment that American politics today is truly representative of the people.

“From his perspective, he may think that it is reflective of the majority,” she said. “I don’t necessarily agree with that.”

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

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