Jeff Flake, Donald Trump, and Edmund Burke

Last Tuesday, at a fundraising reception for his reelection campaign, Jeff Flake and I briefly reminisced about our – well, his – early days in Washington a quarter century ago, when we were both policy wonks working on African issues.

Senator Jeff Flake Africa subcommitteeThose were simpler times. George H.W. Bush was President. The Cold War had just come to an end, and the West and its liberal values had won. We were riding a tide of prosperity buoyed by the Reagan administration’s economic policies and the 1986 tax reforms. Jeff had not yet run for public office but I had tested the political waters in a special election for the Virginia House of Delegates.

Jeff Flake went on to bigger and better things: president of the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, Member of Congress, U.S. Senator and chairman of the Africa subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Today he stunned us with his announcement that he would retire from the Senate because of the debasement of the Republican Party and government institutions by their putative “leader,” Donald J. Trump.

He explained his decision not to seek reelection to the Arizona Republic by saying “there may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party.”

In an eloquent and hard-hitting speech on the floor of the Senate – which became the lead story on today’s edition of All Things Considered on NPR and no doubt flooded the headlines and airwaves of Arizona news outlets – Flake laid out his reasons for retiring and made it clear that Trump is a cancer eating away at the body politic. If anyone deserves blame for the destruction of the Republican party and its values, it is Trump.

What was once the party of Goldwater, Ford, and Reagan has become listless, boneheaded, and petulant.

But those are my words, not Flake’s. Here is what he had to say to his colleagues in the Senate today:

It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the coarseness of our leadership.

Regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our, I mean all of our complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end. In this century, a new phrase to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order, that phrase being the new normal. That we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue with the tone set up at the top. We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals, we must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution the flagrant disregard for truth and decency.

And more:

Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. 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.

And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit and weakness. It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? What are we going to say?

Mr. President, I rise today to say: enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal. With respect and humility, I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it.

Read the whole thing here, with its citations of James Madison and Theodore Roosevelt. Watch it here.

Make no mistake – talented, wise legislators like Jeff Flake depart the Senate and political life because a blowhard in the White House has no sense of propriety, or empathy, or humility, and no understanding of the Constitution or the rule of law or the limits of his own authority. This bodes ill for the Republic.

As I write this, I am still shaking in anger and sadness. Edmund Burke wrote that the “only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” When sinister forces like Steve Bannon and his orange-rind puppet gleefully sideline good men like Jeff Flake, evil triumphs.

Cover photo: (left to right) J.V. LaBeaume, Rick Sincere, Sen. Jeff Flake

  • Kathy Mateer

    Less than a year ago, Trump won the office of President. It was the first time since I was 16 that I went to bed and didn’t watch the election.

    Flake’s speech was powerful and will be one that will be historical. I hope all elected leaders take a long look of reflection on both sides and make a determination to do what’s best for the people they were elected to serve.

    • Lynn R. Mitchell

      Interesting, Kathy … I went to bed and didn’t watch the 2016 returns, too, though I always watch.

  • mezurak

    If he’s so hell bent on leaving the GOP, why didn’t he just join the Dems and really screw things up. He could take McCain with him and change Arizona politics for a hundred years. Hell take all the Senate over to the Dems. They aren’t worth a damn as republicans anyway.

    • Rick_Sincere

      If Jeff Flake joined the Democratic Party or ran as an independent, I’d gladly vote for him or donate money to his campaign. It’s not the team that matters; it’s the ideas and the principles.

      • mezurak

        Their ideas suck and they have no principles. Look at this pos tax reform bill. No where in the last two elections did the gop voter say to kill exemptions or deductions on the middle class.
        But yet, magically, there they are in the bill.

        These political BS artists haven’t done a single thing they have said they were going to do except badger Trump into accepting anything just to say he accomplished something. Flake is leaving and the country is better off for it.

        • ameri…canwork

          When you kill deductions on the middle class the R’s say we broadened the base. Voodoo, lies! I despise this Horse Crap economics and these horses should find their way to the glue factory.
          A little Americanism amounts to a whole lot of Patriotism. They should try it for 4 years, well 3.
          They might find themselves with a loyalty of the American team , not a Globalist new world order, so United Nations like.

          • mezurak

            The United Nations has been MIA for several years now.

  • Jim Portugul

    1. President Reagan was not establishment.
    2. The 1986 Reagan tax reform was revenue neutral, as Reagan insisted it be. It also shifted the tax burden from individuals to corporations, and had the Democrats support.
    3. Out of the 17 Republicans running for President in 2016, none were Reagan based, all were establishment trash, with the possible exception of Trump.
    4. You make absolutely no reference as to what led this country to cry out for Trump. We know that Bush 43’ destroyed our economy, and to a very large extent, our way of life in this country. That is what gave us Obama.
    5) The Trump Tax Reform is actually little more than a tax cut for the establishment. Provided, you are able to find any establishment trash that actually pays taxes. Nothing but a deficit buster that will screw this country into the ground by increasing the deficit an additional $1.5 TRILLION OVER 10 YEARS.
    6) Is the swamp starting to drain itself?
    7) Why will Trump not cancel the Clinton Uranium deal with Putin/Russia if it is as bad as Trump and Republicans say it is?
    8) And keep this in mind. Regan’s 81-82 tax cut increased the deficit. He had to increase taxes around 1984 to get the deficit increases under control.
    9) Don’t even bother trying to tell me the additional revenue from Trump’s tax cuts will bring in addition revenue. The deficit increased after the Reagan and Bush 43’ tax cuts. It will increase after the Trump tax cut for the establishment.
    10) This country cannot afford a tax cut for anybody.

  • H G

    The sinister forces are the establishment.
    They sat by and did little to nothing during Obama’s 8 years. Hell, they even helped him out. They’ve done little to nothing to date in spite of the fact that republicans hold majorities.
    The American people rose to elect someone who would work to change that.
    Thank God for President Trump.
    Jeff Flake’s words are meaningless in light of the pathetic and dangerous republican record in both houses.
    The threat to this democracy is policy which undermines liberty, the same policy and policies the RHINOe are complicit in advancing.

    • Stephen Spiker

      I think what’s funny is you actually believe this. Amazing.

  • Rick_Sincere

    If his Senate floor speech was not sufficient, Senator Flake makes his position crystal clear in this op-ed piece: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/enough–it-is-time-to-stand-up-to-trump/2017/10/24/12488ee4-b908-11e7-a908-a3470754bbb9_story.html

  • old_redneck

    Trump’s “agenda” — whatever that is — is dead. He has accomplished nothing in 9 months and his record of failure will continue to the end of his term, whether or not his term ends in 2020 or sooner.

    Flake, Corker and McCain are now free to vote their consciences and to vote as true conservatives, not as rightwingnutcases. Add to them Collins and Murkowski and you have a solid five-vote bloc of conservative, patriotic, reasonable Republicans who just may save us from Trump.

    • hpd929

      Judges last forever.

      • notjohnsmosby

        Really? Is Scalia hiding out at the hunting lodge at this very minute?

    • Alan

      Unbelievable – you call McCain a conservative!? He recently said he’d not vote for a budget unless the spending caps are removed! And Collins, Murkowski, Flake and Corker – get them the hell out of the Republican Party before they inflict more damage upon the populous.

  • FrankUnderwoodSr

    Jeff Flake is not running for re-election because he knows he would be crushed by Kelli Ward in the primary. His approval ratings in Arizona are so pathetically low that he doesn’t have the slightest chance of re-election. It is all his own fault because he attempted to govern against the will of the people who elected him. Instead, he supported Democrat obstruction and he vigorously opposed the Trump agenda. Good riddance. Dr Kelli Ward will be a great senator for Arizona.

    • Stephen Spiker

      lol Ward is toast now that legitimate candidates who don’t believe in chemtrails will jump in the race. And if Ward manages to trip and fall into the nomination, there’s not a chance she gets elected. Christine O’Donnell 2.0.

      • FrankUnderwoodSr

        Dream on.

        • Lynn R. Mitchell
          • FrankUnderwoodSr

            Who is Kelli Ward? She is smart, hard working, well known and popular in Arizona, and way ahead in the polls. Of course CNN and WAPO and all the rest will attack her, but she will win.

            Flake somehow managed to alienate nearly all his supporters as well as his opponents. I can’t recall an incumbent whose favorables were as upside down as Flake has. NeverTrumpers will probably continue to ally with Democrats to attack Kelli Ward because they’re bitter about losing Flake, but that will only help her with Arizona Republicans who are increasingly disgusted with both their obstructionist Republican senators.

          • notjohnsmosby

            As she unequivocally stated that she is not a witch? Until that time comes, we just don’t know.

      • Jim Portugul

        Well, will that seat stay red regardless of who runs?

        • notjohnsmosby

          No

          • FrankUnderwoodSr

            Maybe

  • hpd929

    Flake did what politicians usually do when they make a self-interested decision: wrap it up in a moralistic motive. Arlen Specter did the same thing in 2009. Both thought that they could not be re-elected as Republicans. Of course, Specter later admitted he’d made a political miscalculation, but that’s the point: the decision was based on politics, not personal ethics.

    Does Flake want to survey the behavior of past Presidents? When was this glorious age when Presidents were perfectly behaved?

    One word that never came up in the speech was “Iraq.” The same Republicans who led the party and the country into that disaster -and who are directly responsible for the 2006/2008 defeats, among the worst in the history of the party- need to apologize for their mistake before lecturing Trump.

  • Lawrence Wood

    The Senator was far down in a near term upcoming Republican primary run that looked increasingly politically unlikely he was apt to recover ground on let alone win outright so he make a decision not to fight on but become in effect a lame duck legislator for his constituents by rushing to the Senate floor and engaging in an anti administration rant.

    Ok, I grant some may see this act as “heroic” some as more along the lines of political cowardice but where ever you may fall on opinion regarding Flake what it amounts to is politics, which if it results in “shaking anger and sadness” because of “sinister forces”, may strongly imply you might be too delicate of disposition to engage in the commentary on politics, an ideological contact sport.

    As for Burke, the parliamentary pugilist, who often drove his fellow M.P.s to distraction with his Parliament speeches widely reported by the daily newspapers of the day, his manner was anything but ‘philosophical’ as the public understands the word today. He well understood that when all you can bring yourself to do is paint your opponent as “evil” you have already lost the argument.

  • Sacred_Geometry

    Sounds like just a bunch of empty words. Flake is not trying to “triumph over evil”, or else he would go over specific policy issues. Instead, he reverts to same character assassination the msm uses. These frauds are soooo upset with Trump because he’s not a cardboard cutout of the politician and establishment puppet that they are used to working with in Washington. I’m glad Trump and Kelli Ward are chasing these soft RINO’s out of office.

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