Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Flake fires flak at the GOP's denial

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake kicked a Republican hornets nest with the publication of a new book and the accompanying Politico op-ed, My Party Is in Denial About Donald Trump. We created him, and now we’re rationalizing him. When will it stop?

On the one hand, that took some real guts and an appreciation of the dangers to our democracy posed by Trump that increase daily. On the other hand Flake votes with Trump. Consider that he cast three votes for various versions of the Senate’s efforts to repeal the ACA (“Obamacare”). So while I appreciate Flake’s words, I would even more appreciate his action.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/Maddow Blog) has the same desire for Flake to walk the walk in Republican senator: GOP is ‘in denial’ about dangers Trump poses.

Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz.) personal relationship with Donald Trump has long been strained. In fact, the president has reportedly met with some Arizona Republicans about launching a primary challenge against the incumbent senator, who’s up for re-election next year.

It now appears the relationship between Trump and Flake will not be repaired, at least not anytime soon. The senator has written a new book in which he expresses concerns about what’s become of conservative politics, and Politico published a striking op-ed from Flake yesterday in which the Arizona Republican says his party has been “in denial” about the dangers Trump poses.

It took courage for the senator to write a provocative piece like this, and I’m glad it’s generating conversation. But as powerful as Flake’s words are, it’s not unreasonable to ask when, and whether, the Arizona Republican intends to back up the talk with action.

Towards the end of Flake’s Politico piece, for example, he put forward three recommendations for his party: (1) be willing to criticize Trump when the president does damage to “the Republican Party’s ability to grow and speak to a larger audience”; (2) honor the GOP’s long-standing free-trade commitments; and (3) “stand up for institutions and prerogatives, like the Senate filibuster.”

To put it charitably, this is a weak response to a political crisis. Flake seems to recognize the poison eating away at his party, but his proposed antidote is, at best, underwhelming.

And therein lies the problem. Flake’s warnings are compelling, and almost certainly sincere, but is he the best messenger for this message? The senator believes his party is in denial about the dangers Trump poses, but he’s nevertheless voted with Trump’s position more than 95% of the time this year, and there’s little to suggest Flake has used his office to push for new checks or limits on the White House.

Even on trade, one of the issues the senator singles out, when Trump nominated a protectionist-minded official to serve as the U.S. Trade Representative, Flake went along, voting to confirm Robert Lighthizer even when other GOP senators balked.

If Trump’s presidency represents a biblical flood, as Flake argued, the senator will need to do more than wring his hands and hope for the best.

Perhaps we’re supposed to see this as a turning point. Maybe Flake’s op-ed and book are his way of throwing down the gauntlet, acknowledging that he’s dutifully and obediently gone along with partisan demands up until now, but he’s prepared to change direction. Perhaps the senator is prepared to stop talking and start challenging Trump in new, forceful ways.

Or maybe Flake will continue to be a rhetorical thorn in the White House’s side, without actually doing anything meaningful about his concerns.

So Flake should not just throw up some flak. He needs to take aim and score some direct hits against the grievous words and actions by Trump and his administration.

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