“Mr. President, I rise today to say: enough,” Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said in a speech announcing his retirement on the Senate floor Tuesday, just hours before supporting the White House in a vote to curb the ability for citizens to sue banks.
Democrats and their media allies wasted no time.
MSNBC political reporter Kasie Hunt rushed to praise Flake’s speech as one that “will end up in the history books.” And former Democratic California Sen. Barbara Boxer called it “brave, strong, courageous.”
The Arizona senator’s retirement speech, however, was a safe decision for a man facing a tough primary. Flake had already written an anti-Trump book and largely disagreed with Trump on matters of decorum, something Republican voters are quick to dismiss.
In the weeks leading up to Flake’s speech, an ally of his 2018 re-election bid told The Daily Caller that the Arizona senator was going to face trouble beating former state senator Kelli Ward in the Republican primary. Ward is backed by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and a recent poll showed her leading Flake by double-digits in the GOP primary.
The Arizona senator even alluded to the fact that he refused to become an ally of Trump’s in order to please voters during his speech.
“When we remain silent and fail to act, when we know that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseam, when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of our institutions and our liberty, we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations,” Flake said.
In a speech the White House described as “petty,” Flake would go on to say, “Humility helps, character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly or debased appetites in us.”
The de facto leader of the Republican Party, Trump, won the presidential nomination after defending the size of his penis, accusing an opponent’s father of being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and saying a judge couldn’t be fair due to his Mexican heritage.
An August poll found that 71 percent of voters overall agreed that Trump’s behavior was not befitting of the office of the presidency. Although, that same George Washington University poll found that 52 percent of “hard GOP” voters thought that Trump’s behavior is fine.
Matters of decorum aside, Flake has been opposed to Trump on two key policy issues, trade and immigration. These were two of the main issues, the other being foreign policy, that Trump used to hammer the Republican establishment during his insurgent primary.
His opponent, Ward, was already using this to her advantage, and recently told Breitbart that Flake is “an open borders amnesty globalist.”
The Arizona senator’s retirement was framed as “winning” by Breitbart, and Axios’ Mike Allen wrote that “the vast majority of Republicans are forever marked as Trump Republicans,” and pointed to standing ovations the president got during lunch with GOP senators, despite the presence of Trump foe Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker.
The president enjoys broad support among Republican voters, with 80 percent in a recent poll saying that he is moving the party in the right direction.
Allen’s analysis, however, that most congressional lawmakers are Trump Republicans seems to reside more along lines that they don’t publicly criticize him, which is something he mentioned in his popular morning newsletter.
“Republicans in private cringe at the thought of President Trump. But it’s meaningless if they publicly bow to him, routinely vote for him and never condemn him,” Allen wrote.
Republicans do commonly support his measures. Just look at Flake’s Tuesday afternoon vote. Trump didn’t win the GOP nomination on rolling back protections for consumers though.
Congressional lawmakers haven’t passed legislation to fund a border wall along most of the southern border, and House Speaker Paul Ryan hasn’t shifted to embrace Trump’s protectionist trade stance.
The difference is Ryan and most lawmakers haven’t written a book knocking Trump or call the White House an adult day care center, like Republican Sen. Bob Corker did. Deference before the party’s de facto leader appears to be the litmus test, not policy stances.
“We’ve said it many times before. The people of this country didn’t elect somebody to be weak; they elected somebody to be strong. And when he gets hit, he’s going to hit back,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday.
She was later asked, “Can you point to any votes that Flake and Corker took that were against the President’s agenda?”
“I’d have to look detailed into their voting records,” Sanders replied.