THE BIG IDEA: Now Jeff Flake can listen to his conscience, not his consultants.
The Trumpists feel triumphant and emboldened after the Arizona Republican senator announced that he will not seek reelection. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon quickly claimed Flake’s scalp as his own. “Many more to come,” he texted a Washington Post reporter last night.
But a much better outcome for President Trump would have been if Flake ran and lost in the primary. Public and private polls showed that he was deeply vulnerable to a challenge from anyone aligned with the administration.
Flake was building up a serious campaign apparatus, and his advisers were telling him that he had to be cautious. If he had decided to take his chances, the senator’s critiques of Trump would have been very measured. If he subsequently lost in a primary, it would be much easier for the president’s allies to dismiss future attacks as sour grapes from a senator scorned.
— Flake’s decision to retire means that he gets to leave the Senate on his own terms and apparently that entails going full “Bulworth.”
“For the next 14 months, relieved of the strictures of politics, I will be guided only by the dictates of conscience,” he promises. “It’s time we all say: Enough.”
While some might sulk from the scene, Flake is flooding the zone. He was omnipresent and ubiquitous across media platforms last night and this morning, from CNN to NPR, warning in dire terms about the GOP’s retreat from Reagan-style conservatism.
“Here’s the bottom line: The path that I would have to travel to get the Republican nomination is a path I’m not willing to take, and that I can’t in good conscience take,” Flake acknowledged in an interview with the Arizona Republic. “It would require me to believe in positions I don’t hold on such issues as trade and immigration, and it would require me to condone behavior that I cannot condone.”
— As one of the most authentically conservative members of Congress, Flake has a level of moral authority rivaled by few others. He is the rightful ideological heir to Barry Goldwater, whose namesake institute Flake led before being elected to the House in 2000.
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