Flake News

[ Posted Tuesday, October 24th, 2017 – 15:31 UTC ]

I have to begin with an apology for that headline... but in the era of Donald Trump, it was impossible to resist. Senator Jeff Flake made the news today by announcing he will not be seeking re-election next year. He did so in a rather spectacular fashion, with a Senate floor speech that came close to denouncing Trump and all he stands for. As time goes by, more and more Republicans are taking the opportunity to do the same thing, but so far this hasn't much impact on the political world beyond the realm of rhetoric. So while I appreciate Flake's statement for the entertainment value alone, I also have serious doubts as to whether it means much in the grand scheme of things.

Jeff Flake has been positioning himself as the moral savior of the Republican Party's soul for some time now. Earlier this year he released a book titled Conscience Of A Conservative (reprising the title another senator from Arizona used a half-century earlier), in which Flake denounced the coarseness introduced by the Trump takeover of the GOP. His floor speech today is merely a continuation of this theme.

However amusing this all is for liberals, though, Flake's announcement today wasn't entirely unexpected -- because he stood a good chance of losing to a primary challenger next year. Leaving the Senate now is at least somewhat self-serving, because it's always easier to exit on your own rather than have your base voters hand you the pink slip. What this means outside of Arizona, though, is that we'll likely see a Flake replacement who is even more conservative and closer to Donald Trump. Barring an upset victory by a Democrat, this is now almost assured.

Flake's floor speech was notable for its timing, when you consider what else has been going on in GOP circles of late. After all, George W. Bush just re-entered politics (something he staunchly refused to do while President Obama was in office) with a speech denouncing Trumpism in fiery terms. Both John McCain and Bob Corker have been engaged in a running battle of words (and tweets, of course) with Trump, for weeks now. In fact, before the Flake news broke, the big story was Corker and Trump sniping at each other this morning, before Trump headed down to Congress to have lunch with the GOP senators. Corker, like Flake, has announced he won't be running for re-election next year, which has freed him up to say precisely what he thinks of Trump. John McCain finally got revenge for Trump dismissing his heroism during the campaign this week, as he snidely referred to Vietnam War deferments obtained by rich people (for "bone spurs" -- a direct dig at Trump).

But, like I said, while all of this is surely heartening for progressives to hear, I have to wonder what has really changed. Jeff Flake may enjoy very publicly taking the high moral road, but then again he voted for every flavor of "repeal and replace Obamacare" that came before the Senate this year. So while he is tsk-tsking at other Republicans (as the party's "conscience"), he also apparently approves of kicking 20 million or more people off their health insurance for the cause of conservatism. Of all the "profiles in courage" votes (to bring up another senator's book title) that saved Obamacare, Flake was nowhere to be seen. If this is any indication, then he's not exactly going to be voting against party dogma for the rest of his term. In other words, talk is cheap, Jeff.

It seems that every couple of weeks or so, the inside-the-Beltway crowd starts chattering about impeachment or the use of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. No doubt Flake's speech and announcement will spur at least some to bring the subject up again. But this is kind of ridiculous, at least as things stand. For either of these constitutional remedies to actually take place, Democrats would need 19 Republican senators to vote to depose Trump. That's a lot of GOP senators, to put it mildly. Adding up all the senators who have either denounced Trump or voted against his agenda doesn't even put you close to 19. Jeff Flake plus John McCain plus Bob Corker plus Susan Collins plus Lisa Murkowski only equals five, by my count. Perhaps I've forgotten one or two (Lindsey Graham, maybe?), but that still falls far short of the 19 that would be necessary. In other words, when the number of GOP senators denouncing Trump rises above a dozen, I might start paying closer attention, but surely not before that comes to pass.

So while Jeff Flake was brave to stand up and say what he thinks of his party's president on the Senate floor, his announcement that he'll be retiring wasn't really all that brave, since it only means he'll avoid the disappointment of losing next year's primary. Flake isn't really serious about injecting much conscience into his party, since he still votes the party line even on bills that are (as even Trump admitted) "mean."

It's always entertaining for the opposition party to see open warfare between the other team's members, and that certainly is proving to be the case for Democrats over the past few weeks. Watching McCain attack Trump for his deferment or Bob Corker attack Trump on any number of issues is indeed amusing from across the aisle. Seeing George W. Bush come out of the political wilderness to denounce everything his party's president says, does, and stands for was also rather satisfying to watch. But until these Republicans start actively working with Democrats to defeat Trump's entire agenda, it's no more than Kabuki theater, really. "My party is being run by a dangerous demagogue, but I'll vote for everything he wants," isn't exactly a profile of political courage.

Flake's news today hasn't really changed much, sad to say. He'll avoid losing a primary, but that probably won't change the ultimate outcome of the race. Which means he'll likely be replaced by a more pro-Trump Republican. Until he leaves, Flake shows no inclination of bucking the Trump agenda, so while it's amusing to hear him denounce Trump, in the end this makes no difference to the final vote count.

About the only positive thing to hope for is fairly abstract, in fact. If McCain and Corker and Flake continue to provoke Trump, he will likely go overboard on Twitter against them (even more than he already has). The more Trump does this, the more it might convince other GOP senators to step up and join the chorus. That's kind of a longshot, but it could be possible (especially if Trump goes over the line in some spectacular fashion or another). If more and more Republicans stood up to Trump, then a critical mass might be achieved which could stop a lot of the damage Trump is doing to the federal government. Again, the odds are long against this, but it could conceivably happen.

My advice is to get all the entertainment value you can out of speeches like the one Jeff Flake delivered today. When Trump is distracted, less gets done -- and that's a good thing in and of itself. But until this rift in the Republican Party grows a lot wider, it really doesn't change the political dynamic in Washington all that much.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


10 Comments on “Flake News”

  1. [1] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    [28] from Friday TPM. Way cool.

  2. [2] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    I agree with just about everything you wrote in yesterday's article about tax cuts.

    However, I'd like to say that there is a really good, deep, progressive argument for setting the corporate tax rate at 0% and working on income and the like, instead.

    Business taxes need not be part of the base for a truly progressive and pro-US/Econ approach to work really well.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Okay, so I'll comment on the current piece that resides above this comment thread ...

    Chris, do you think Senator Flake has a long-term strategy in mind? For some reason, I'm thinking he's not at all done with politics and he's thinking ahead to 2020 and maybe even further ahead than that in terms of a new conservative party ...

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    About the only positive thing to hope for is fairly abstract, in fact. If McCain and Corker and Flake continue to provoke Trump, he will likely go overboard on Twitter against them (even more than he already has).

    Chris, I think this is spot on.

    I can see Trump being provoked to the point where he will react so outrageously as to make his antics up until now seem like nothing and then deciding that his best option is to resign.

    Call me a cockeyed optimist but I think this is the second most likely outcome, just behind being charged with obstruction of justice.

  5. [5] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    Spot on, today, CW.

    Though, I'm a believer in Trump as symptom rather than cause, which also makes Flake's comments less worthy.

    After all, we have a past that includes Wilson fundraising from "You lie" and no GOP leaders condemning him.

    We also have the original in Palin. While McCain was telling a constituent that Obama was a good man, she was going places that no one with a chance of being elected before her went. She even threw in some sexual innuendo for good measure (drill, baby, drill).

    As I said, symptom, not cause. For going along with it until Trump, Flake is as guilty as the rest (as you so poignantly put forth in this post, CW).

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    flake is prepping for the 2020 primary.

  7. [7] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Take away the Flakes and all you have left is the fruits and the nuts.

    Trump is mad at Flake. O'Reilly is mad at God.

    God has declined to comment. He is taking the high road. For now.

  8. [8] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Stig [8]: Spot on. My favorite, so far.

    CW: On today's topic:

    As the information bubbles around the Dems and GOP have hardened of late into force fields, I've been making a sincere effort to spend some time every day over in the Fox News info sphere.

    Today I caught a remarkable statement by Ronna McDaniel, Chairwoman of the RNC: "President Trump is a mainstream Republican." She went on to cite a short list of current GOP agenda items that Trump is 'for', including tax cuts to prove her point.

    Meanwhile, Eric Erickson, in an op-ed on the Foxnews website, claims that Flake was toast anyway in Arizona because his politics were too mainstream: "He went from being a reliable Club for Growth members [sic] to a reliable Mitch McConnell member", Erickson writes, and adds, "I’m sorry Trump humpers, but Steve Bannon did not defeat Jeff Flake in a game of 13 dimensional chess. The truth is Jeff Flake defeated himself." By not adhering strictly enough to the 'Club for Growth' agenda, apparently.

    Got that? To reiterate: Trump is 'mainstream', but being mainstream (i.e., 'the McConnell camp') will kill you politically.

    Since the game lately over behind the Democrat Deflector Shield has been a round of 'what will bring down Trump, impeachment, or the 25th amendment?', allow me to postulate a third threat to Trump's presidency: Fox News.

    Since Roger Ailes left the network, a lot of ink has been wasted speculating about changes that might be made to that 'institution'. One of the things that hasn't changed is the network's assertion that it is the ONLY reliable and trustworthy news source in the world. This was Ailes' innovation, allowing the channel to simultaneously dominate conservative discourse, yet assert that it isn't 'mainstream media', a term FN viewers use regularly as a pejorative. It was, and still is, a pretty good con.

    You may recall that Trump had a faux feud with Fox early in the campaign, over questions he received from Megyn Kelly during a Fox News sponsored debate. Kelly had already made her charge of sexual harassment against Ailes, who, shortly after her dismissal, was reported to be advising Trump on media strategy, which strongly suggests that the whole thing was a setup designed to give Ailes an excuse to fire his accuser, without getting into the whole touchy-threaty thing between them.

    Anyway, soon thereafter Fox moved decisively into the Trump camp and has continued to serve as his strongest media defender ever since.

    But what Fox giveth Fox could taketh away. At the moment, Trump is Fox's most ardent viewers, apparently believing every word spoken on the network, but if he should ever decide that he'd been mistreated (for real) by the network, I sincerely wonder which of the two would prevail.

    There is some speculation that Bannon might try to launch a conservative network of his own to compete with Fox. If such a thing were to actually come to pass and prove popular with Trumpers, Fox's first instinct would be to protect its market share and attack. That would surely split Trump's loyalty to the network and open up the possibility of the sort of intra-party war that would make today's GOP rift seem like a furniture scratch.

    Well, hope springs eternal.

  9. [9] 
    Kick wrote:


    *LOL* You have outdone yourself, sir. :)

  10. [10] 
    dsws wrote:

    we'll likely see a Flake replacement who is even more conservative

    No, we'll see a replacement who's more of a far-right radical.

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