We stand at a crossroads of our democracy. That sounds like alarmism, except even some members of the governing party have transformed into Cassandras. And unlike what President Trump has petulantly tweeted, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake aren’t simply opposing Trump because they would lose their primaries.
While Jeff Flake is indeed deeply unpopular in Arizona, that voter discontent stems mostly from Flake’s book, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.
The title says it all. In the book, the now-retiring senator excoriates Donald Trump and the GOP for their nativism. And so much more.
Here’s an excerpt from a NY Times Book Review article about Conscience of a Conservative:
Flake calls the president’s Twitter posts “all noise and no signal,” then adds: “Volatile unpredictability is not a virtue. We have quite enough volatile actors to deal with internationally as it is without becoming one of them.”
That is on Page 5. On Page 6, he notes that Trump is in the regular habit of destabilizing the American people, not just foreign leaders. On Page 29, he says the word “Orwellian” “seems quaint now, inadequate to our moment.” On Page 30, he denounces the “embrace of ‘alternative facts’ at the highest levels of American life,” adding that it “creates a state of confusion, dividing us along fissures of truth and falsity and keeping us in a kind of low-level dread.”
“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,” Mr. Flake said in his 17-minute floor speech. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”
The book didn’t start Flake’s electoral problems. He’s been opposing Trump since before election day, on which he vowed to withhold his vote from Trump.
And it hardly came a shock to Flake that his book further alienated him from his deeply conservative Arizona base. He kept it a secret from his closest advisers until the moment of publication.
Now, the book also gives a full-throated defense of traditional conservatism — the title comes from a book by Barry Goldwater, whose namesake institute Flake headed before entering politics. Indeed, Flake is Tea Party wingnut of (almost) the highest order. Yet, he’s also a decent one.
In an online NPR article about Conscience of a Conservative, Flake is quoted as saying:
“I am a proud conservative and a lifelong Republican. That does not make the Democrats my enemies. America has too many real enemies to indulge such nonsense,” Flake writes.
If you substitute liberal, Democrat, and Republican it’s a statement I could’ve made. And Flake has backed up that sentiment with his actions. He weathered heavy criticism from some GOP colleagues for standing during an Obama State of the Union address while helping the still-recovering and impaired Gabby Giffords to stand.
Opposing Trump: What Made Bob Corker Pop?
Bob Corker, on the other hand, didn’t formally endorse Trump during the GOP primaries, but he gave a message of support and later campaigned for him. Corker was considered for Vice President and Secretary of State.
So, his turnaround is sour grapes, then? Not likely. Corker remained an adviser to Trump until something snapped.
Abruptly, Corker decided against running for re-election. Trump called to ask him to change his mind, though he later lied to claim Corker begged for his support. According to Trump’s lie, after he said no, Corker decided he couldn’t win without the president’s endorsement and decided to retire.
Unburdened by the need to cater to Trump’s base, the Tennessee senator let loose with both barrels. My favorite gibe (and his most famous) is his comment likening the White House to an adult daycare center, which Corker later turned into an amusing hashtag.
Corker was previously close enough to the Trump administration to see with his own eyes Trump’s tantrums. He had an insider’s view of aides and cabinet members struggling to keep the president from doing something disastrous.
Was that what turned the tide?
I of course don’t know. However, I have some clues about what’s motivating the other GOP senator vociferously opposing Trump — the senior senator from Arizona, John McCain.
In an interview on C-SPAN, McCain needled Trump over his Vietnam deferral for a bone spur. Remember, Trump was the putz who claimed McCain wasn’t a hero because he was captured (and tortured regularly for five and a half years).
The former POW, who still suffers physically from the after-effects of his torture, separately warned about “spurious, half-baked nationalism.” Though McCain never uttered the name Trump, everyone knew who he meant. And he knew everyone would know.
Ah, but McCain is almost certainly dying from brain cancer, people scoff. He has nothing to lose, either. Yes, but the war hero was speaking out long before his diagnosis.
As for Jeff Flake, after his impassioned speech before the Senate, announce his retirement, the sniping commenced from Democrats.
Flake is indeed faaaaar to the right, but his disgust and fear are genuine. Dems certainly can’t object to statements like:
Our children are watching: When the next generation asks us: “Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?,” what are we going to say?
I think the reaction from many in the left is short-sighted and blinkered. It’s the very fact that Jeff Flake is so far to the right that gives him so much credibility. And, as I indicated, a major reason for his low approval ratings was his criticisms of Donald Trump…from the beginning.
This is what a column in the NY Times had to say about the twin apostasies of Corker and Flake last Tuesday:
This week, Republican senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona finally said what some of us have longed to hear from those in their position. On Tuesday, Corker told CNN that Trump will be remembered for the “debasement of our nation.” Later that day, Flake announced he wouldn’t be running for re-election, and excoriated Trump on the Senate floor. “We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals,” said Flake.
“Under our Constitution, there simply are not that many people who are in a position to do something about an executive branch in chaos,” Flake writes. But members of Congress can. “Too often we observe the unfolding drama along with the rest of the country, passively, all but saying, ‘Someone should do something!’ without seeming to realize that that someone is us,” he writes.
Other GOP representatives are reportedly mulling retirement. So, will we soon see a tsunami of Republicans opposing Trump?
But Bob Corker has claimed that many of his colleagues secretly feel the same way as he does. And even if no other Republicans show Corker’s, Flake’s, and McCain’s courage in opposing Trump — where is McCain’s buddy Lindsey Graham? — we should welcome all aboard the anti-Trump train.
Meanwhile, many conservative columnists have been orchestrating an anti-Trump choral. George Will was the first, sounding the trumpet with his resignation from the GOP during the Republican primary. Fellow Washington Post columnists, Michael Gerson and (the wingnut) Jennifer Rubin have been pounding a steady drumbeat of opposition after the election. At the NY Times, David Brooks and other Republican columnists have been singing in the chorus.
Both Corker and Flake have warned about the danger to our democracy posed by Trump. The future of our republic demands that we fight against a manifestly unfit president who doesn’t respect the rule of law.
After Flake’s impassioned speech, Bob Corker wrapped him in a welcoming embrace. We should, too.
I hereby declare this and every day Hug a Republican Against Trump Day. We may not understand where the Republican opposition is coming from, but we need to embrace everyone we can get.
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