On Tuesday, Republican Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona announced that he will not be running for re-election next year. Flake’s favorability rating in his home state has been in bad shape, in part because of his strong, public criticisms of President Trump over the past several months. Despite voting with the president 92% of the time, estimations were that he would lose his primary challenge to Kelli Ward, a Steve Bannon-backed candidate.
In explaining his decision on the Senate floor, Flake addressed President Trump directly, delivering a blistering critique of his leadership, his conduct, and the current state of American politics.
He denounced what he referred to as the “the new normal” and the “daily sundering of our country – the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.”
Flake added, “Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.”
On the evolving direction of the GOP, Flake (whose voting record has a 93% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union) stated that it “is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party – the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things.”
It’s awfully hard to argue with anything he said.
Putting Trump’s behavioral issues aside for a moment, it has become painfully clear that the GOP is no longer a small-government party, even rhetorically. After all, last year, Republican voters awarded their presidential nomination to a candidate who ran against entitlement reform and free trade, while advocating for “government will pay it” universal healthcare.
In the realm of personal integrity, Republican voters in Alabama demonstrated last month that crazy rhetoric and ghastly personal views are still attractive traits in a candidate — in this case, someone running for the U.S. Senate. They nominated Roy Moore, a man who National Review’s Jonah Goldberg justifiably described as a “twice-disgraced former judge who believes 9/11 was divine retribution for our sins and an anti-Muslim bigot who can’t quite bring himself to rule out the death penalty for homosexuals.”
And in case you think it was Moore’s policy-positions or “real conservatism” that won him the race, keep in mind that he was opposed to the repeal and replace of Obamacare. And when asked about his stance on DACA, Moore didn’t even know what the program was.
Unsurprisingly, several of the self-professed conservatives in the Trump-friendly media, who backed Moore during his primary run, are now making it their mission to trash Senator Flake on his way out the door. Sean Hannity is one of them, using his Fox News show last night to describe who he referred to as “little snowflake whiny Jeff Flake” as “pathetic, weak, gutless, and spineless”.
It’s probably worth reminding people that back in June, Senator Flake was hailed as a hero for being the first person to attend to Steve Scalise after the Louisiana congressman had been shot by a crazed gunman during a congressional baseball practice. Flake applied pressure to Scalise’s wounds until paramedics arrived, and then thoughtfully used Scalise’s phone to call the congressman’s wife, and notify her of the situation, so she wouldn’t have to find out about it on the news.
Conversely, Hannity spent much of that spring tormenting the family of Seth Rich, a murdered DNC staffer whose death Hannity used to spread an anti-Hillary Clinton conspiracy theory for weeks on national television.
Hannity, of course, wasn’t the only one upset with Flake’s speech on Tuesday.
Laura Ingraham complained that it could have just as easily been delivered by Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer.
On Fox News’s The Five, Jesse Watters responded with, “Good riddance. We don’t need him,” and announced that Flake had officially joined “The Resistance” (a term used to describe liberal opposition to President Trump).
“Screw you!” yelled Greg Gutfeld, in response to Flake evoking his children and grandchildren in his stated decision to leave the Senate. Gutfeld believed Flake sounded too sanctimonious.
I’m sure that many Republicans who watched Flake’s speech (which, while critical of Trump, was very pro-conservative) reacted similarly, serving to bolster one of the arguments Flake made in his address: “It is also clear to me for the moment we have given in or given up on those core principles in favor of the more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment.”
None of this is to say that the people of Arizona didn’t have legitimate reasons to reject Flake. He has displeased his constituents with some of his votes and stances, and they have every right to kick him to the curb (for any number of reasons).
But Republicans and conservatives alike should be increasingly concerned by this media-fueled (and possibly spreading) sentiment among the GOP base that would portray a man like Jeff Flake as a dastardly villain, while embracing (and working to normalize) a man like Roy Moore.
This is not a good trend unless you subscribe to Steve Bannon’s vision for the GOP, which thrives off of bombastic aspersion, and has little room for conservatism or moral integrity. But at this moment, that’s exactly the direction the party is headed in.