Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) launched her bid for Sen. Bob Corker’s seat Thursday, with a clear message against Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.
“The United States Senate, it’s totally dysfunctional and enough to drive you nuts,” Blackburn said of the Republican-led upper chamber, in the first lines of a video announcing her candidacy.
Instead, she framed herself as an anti-establishment conservative — a close ally to President Donald Trump, his anti-immigration message, and the right’s stand against “political correctness.”
“I’m politically incorrect and proud of it, so let me just tell you how it is,” Blackburn said. “The fact that our Republican majority in the US Senate can’t overturn Obamacare or will not overturn Obamacare is a disgrace. Too many Senate Republicans act like Democrats or worse, and that’s what we have to change.”
It’s a message that has played well in red states thus far — most recently in Alabama, where extreme-right Senate candidate Roy Moore won the Republican primary against incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in a special election for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s seat.
Blackburn, who currently represents a deeply red district in Tennessee in the House — one that went for Trump by almost 40 points in the 2016 election — is positioning her platform in close alliance with the White House, even if it means putting herself at odds with the Republican establishment in Congress.
Those in Trump’s inner circle, who have developed an increasingly tense relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan — particularly after several failed attempts to repeal Obamacare — have long been eyeing Senate seats to primary in 2018 to reshape policy debates. Even before Corker announced his retirement, former White House strategist Steve Bannon was looking for a populist primary challenger to Corker. And Trump himself has long been frustrated with Congress’s growing willingness to call out incompetence in the executive branch.
Since announcing last month that he would not seek reelection — setting up an open contest for his seat in the 2018 midterms — Corker has been openly speaking out about Trump and his administration, most recently saying members of Trump’s administration had the potential to send the nation into “chaos.” Even so, he’s a reliable vote for the Republican Party, and hasn’t stood in the way of any major Trump legislation. (Although as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he did push for the sanctions bill against Russia that Trump was not pleased with.)
Blackburn, however — in a clear appeal to the frustrated Republican base that has yet to see the majority party deliver on a single major agenda item — is doing the opposite, saying she would work to make the Republican majority “act like one,” and stand close to the president.
In other words, in decrying her fellow Republicans in the Senate as a first campaign message, she is saying she’s willing to make McConnell’s job much more difficult.