On Tuesday, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona announced that he will not be seeking re-election for his Senate seat in the 2018 midterm election. The announcement comes after several months of back and forth jabbing between Sen. Flake and President Trump, as both men have been harshly critical of one another.
There is validity in some of Flake’s critiques of Trump and the Republican Party as a whole. He is correct that the party has “lost its way” to a large degree, specifically as it relates to traditional conservatism becoming a less prominent feature of the GOP agenda. Flake is also correct in criticizing Trump’s silly feuds with Gold Star families, his tepid condemnation of the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, and the ongoing childish insults that plague the president’s Twitter feed on any given day. Trump indisputably has some policy stances that are contrary to conservatism, such as his economic protectionism and unwillingness to reform entitlements. All of these censures are certainly justified, but Flake’s desperate attempt to take the moral high ground ignores his own follies. He should be held to precisely the same conservative standards that he purports to defend.
Flake contends that there is no longer a place for him in the GOP, with his insinuation being that honest conservatives can no longer effectively influence the direction of the party. However, Flake’s voting record in recent years shows that he is far from being the genuine conservative that he portrays himself to be. Flake was consistently conservative during his tenure as a Congressman, but this has drastically changed since he became a Senator in 2013.
Flake’s Club for Growth score has dropped 14 percent over the past few years. His Heritage Action for America score has dropped 30 percent over the same time span. He has an embarrassing 53 percent liberty score from Conservative Review for his voting record as a Senator. Moreover, he has a series of votes in recent years that are particularly despicable.
Flake supported the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill, voted to fund President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty, was one of only ten Republicans to confirm Loretta Lynch as Attorney General, voted to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts, advanced gun control legislation following the Newtown shooting, voted to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, voted to fund Planned Parenthood, the Iran nuclear deal, and Obama’s $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” 2015 spending bill, and voted against Sen. Mike Lee’s First Amendment Defense Act and Sen. Ted Cruz’s Defund Obamacare Act of 2013.
He even supported John Kasich over both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump in the Republican primary. Flake’s record demonstrates how he has consistently sold out conservatives on key issues. He lectures on the importance of standing up to the party and to Trump while he betrays the very conservative principles that he claims to stand for.
The notion that the entire Republican Party has been completely hijacked by “Trumpism” is also false.
On the same day that Flake made his announcement, Pew Research Center released a report identifying the nation’s current political typology. The study found that the largest wing of the Republican party was core conservatives, who can be generally summarized as traditional Constitutional conservatives. This group makes up 13 percent of the public, 31 percent of all Republicans, and 43 percent of politically engaged Republicans. Flake’s argument that conservatives can no longer win is not only false, but also dangerous. Conservatives can disagree with Trump while simultaneously working with him to promote substantive policy rooted in unwavering conservative principles, as Sen. Rand Paul has demonstrated.
Flake suggests that he wouldn’t be able to win a Republican primary election for his Senate seat without compromising his principles in order to appease Trump. He is certainly correct that he would likely lose a primary, but not for the reasons that he asserted. Flake was a very popular six-term Congressman, even winning 74 percent of the vote in the 2006 election. As Flake positioned himself for a Senate run, he began to turn his back on his conservative base. Flake was quite possibly the most unpopular Senator in the country back in 2013, before Trump was even remotely relevant to the Republican Party. He has solidified his place as America’s most abhorred Senator with a 30 percent approval rating, and it has very little, if anything, to do with Trump. Flake has become increasingly unpopular as a Senator due to his abandonment of the conservative principles that got him into office. Arizona voters were ready to send him packing before he decided not to run for re-election, and he has decided to point the finger at others, rather than looking in the mirror and accepting responsibility for his own failures.