Conservative GOP Senator Flake blasts Trump in op ed

Conservative Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona just penned an op-ed in Politico, blasting both Donald Trump, and the GOP for not standing up to him. (The op-ed is actually a selection from Flake’s new book, “Conscience of a Conservative.”)

Flake even criticized the GOP for making the Obama presidency all about defeating Obama, rather than helping the country.

Here’s how the piece starts:

I will let the liberals answer for their own sins in this regard. (There are many.) But we conservatives mocked Barack Obama’s failure to deliver on his pledge to change the tone in Washington even as we worked to assist with that failure. It was we conservatives who, upon Obama’s election, stated that our No. 1 priority was not advancing a conservative policy agenda but making Obama a one-term president—the corollary to this binary thinking being that his failure would be our success and the fortunes of the citizenry would presumably be sorted out in the meantime. It was we conservatives who were largely silent when the most egregious and sustained attacks on Obama’s legitimacy were leveled by marginal figures who would later be embraced and legitimized by far too many of us. It was we conservatives who rightly and robustly asserted our constitutional prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government when a Democrat was in the White House but who, despite solemn vows to do the same in the event of a Trump presidency, have maintained an unnerving silence as instability has ensued. To carry on in the spring of 2017 as if what was happening was anything approaching normalcy required a determined suspension of critical faculties. And tremendous powers of denial.

And it gets better from there.

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GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Flake is clearly talking about Trump and birtherism in particular, when he writes: “It was we conservatives who were largely silent when the most egregious and sustained attacks on Obama’s legitimacy were leveled by marginal figures who would later be embraced and legitimized by far too many of us.”

Flake goes on. He quotes conservative writers calling the conservative mind “diseased,” and clearly means the Trump presidency. He says the Trump presidency is “erratic” and “in chaos.” And that Congress needs to step and assert itself as part of the “checks and balances.”

Some of Flake’s greatest concern is about Trump’s affinity for authoritarian dictators, and his disinterest in Russia’s attempt to influence our election.

Meanwhile, the strange specter of an American president’s seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians created such a cognitive dissonance among my generation of conservatives—who had come of age under existential threat from the Soviet Union—that it was almost impossible to believe. Even as our own government was documenting a con­certed attack against our democratic processes by an enemy foreign power, our own White House was rejecting the authority of its own intelligence agencies, disclaiming their findings as a Democratic ruse and a hoax. Conduct that would have had conservatives up in arms had it been exhibited by our political opponents now had us dumbstruck.

In the next paragraph, ostensibly writing about Putin, but one wonders if Flake wasn’t also intentionally referencing Trump, he writes: “The lesson here is that nothing is gone forever, especially when it comes to the devouring ambition of despotic men.”

It’s a masterpiece, sure to send Trump into a Twitter rage.

Now, why does this matter? Because “Nixon goes to China” moments are critically important, and helpful, in politics. It’s one things for liberals to criticize Trump, and the GOP’s coddling of him, it’s another entirely for a sitting conservative Republican Senator (who isn’t John McCain or Lindsey Graham, who are more “expected’ to speak out).

Now, according to FiveThirtyEight, Flake has voted with Trump over 95% of the time. So there’s fair game to question just how committed Flake is to righting the ship of state. Having said that, the man did put his name to a blistering op ed, which is an incredibly gutsy, in-your-face thing to do. And it’s just not something one normally does to a president of your own party. So in that regard, what Flake did is noteworthy, and it has earned our thanks.

Flake’s piece also suggests, in my mind at least, that Flake is not alone. He’s writing this because other Republican members of Congress have talked to him, and agreed with him, and Trump. Flake simply isn’t as afraid of speaking up. Or, just as importantly, Flake is more afraid of just how a danger Trump poses to our democracy.

After defending the filibuster, Flake concludes:

We have taken our “institutions conducive to freedom,” as Goldwater put it, for granted as we have engaged in one of the more reckless periods of politics in our history. In 2017, we seem to have lost our appreciation for just how hard won and vulnerable those institutions are.

Flake is saying that Trump threatens our freedom, and the institutions that help to preserve it. That’s an amazing (and accurate) charge for anyone to make publicly, let alone a conservative sitting Republican senator.

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