Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) has announced that he will not run for reelection. He announced his decision on the Senate floor in a searing speech about the state of our political culture, especially at the hands of President Trump:
It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.
In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order – that phrase being “the new normal.” But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue – with the tone set at the top.
We must never regard as “normal” the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept 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 was anticipating a rough 2018 in Arizona. In polls a year ahead of the Republican primary, he was running well behind a former state senator who held a town hall on “chemtrails.” And Democrats have a strong candidate in Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who promptly reached out to Flake supporters and Goldwater Republicans, telling the Arizona Republic, “It’s been an honor to know and serve with Jeff. He is a man of integrity and a statesman who is true to his convictions – an Arizonan through and through.”
Despite his political challenges, it’s disappointing that another of the few Republicans willing to call out President Trump for his misguided positions, his coarseness, and his damage to “our democratic norms and ideals” will be leaving the Senate. This is precisely the moment when clear-eyed senators such as Flake and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) are needed. Flake and Corker do have another 14 months in the Senate. If they use their time well, they will deserve a new chapter in Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy’s book about senators who suffered criticism and electoral losses after taking a stand on principle.
It’s also unfortunate that Trump and Steve Bannon are seeking to drive out of the Republican party Reaganite leaders and replace them with protectionist populists. As Flake said:
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.
He said more on these topics in his recent book with the consciously Goldwateresque title Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle, which is well worth reading.
I hope Senator Flake will find ways to serve the cause of limited and republican government over the next 14 months and beyond.