Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, an old-school conservative Republican who rejects Donald Trump’s remodeling of the Republican Party as a dangerously destructive cult of personality, announced Tuesday that he would not seek reelection to a Republican-controlled Senate that more frequently than not serves as a rubber stamp for Trump and Trumpism.
The maverick senator, who had been targeted for defeat in the 2018 Arizona Republican primary by the president’s political henchmen (most notably former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon), did not mention Trump by name in his emotional address to the Senate. But there could be no mistaking Flake’s message to his stunned colleagues and to his country.
“Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified,” Flake declared. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”
Flake addressed much of his speech to his fellow Republicans, whose complicity with Trump he warned is transforming the GOP into a “fearful, backward-looking minority party.”
I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret, because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics, regret because of the indecency of our discourse, regret because of the coarseness of our leadership, regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our—all of our—complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs, It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.
Flake acknowledged that his brand of conservatism-with-conscience, which owes more to Republicans such as Robert Taft and Barry Goldwater than to the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, has been sidelined in Trump’s Grand New Party. The senator explained,
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 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. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.
Flake also acknowledged that he was challenging a basic premise of the hyper-cynical Republican Party that has been forged by Ryan, McConnell, and other apologists for the 45th president: that partisanship trumps principle. “I am aware,” he said, ”that a segment of my party believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect.”