In a speech on the Senate floor this afternoon, Republican senator Jeff Flake slammed President Trump and announced that he will not seek re-election in 2018. Flake has been a consistent Trump critic, and polls showed a tough challenge lay ahead for him in the primary. Nonetheless, his speech is one of the most scathing attacks on the president by a sitting Republican official to date.
Flake expressed “regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics,” “the coarseness of our leadership,” “the compromise of our moral authority,” “and by our — all of our — complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and accommodation of the unacceptable to end,” he said.
Several prominent Republicans have delivered speeches criticizing Trump, some obliquely and others directly. Last week, John McCain denounced “spurious nationalism” while George W. Bush warned that “bigotry seems emboldened” and sounded a concerned note about Trump’s agenda without mentioning him by name. Bob Corker, for his part, told the New York Times that Trump was leading the country on “the path to World War III,” and finds himself engaged in a Twitter feud with the president.
But Flake’s speech was a long, sustained jeremiad against Trump that cited James Madison and Theodore Roosevelt to argue that Trump represents an existential threat to American institutions. “Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’” he said, “and when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is dangerous to our democracy” and “projects a corruption of the spirit.” He continued:
The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters — the notion that one should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.
He indicted Republicans, who, he argued, have acclimated to and supported Trump for political purposes. “Were the shoe on the other foot, would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats?” Flake asked. “When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do because of political considerations . . . then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations,” he said. “When the next generation asks us: ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?”
With Flake out of the running in 2018, the populist Kelli Ward — a stalwart supporter of Trump — is now the front-runner in the Republican primary. (Update: Although, per Rich, “Ward can spike the football today, but her path to a primary victory almost certainly just got more complicated and difficult.”)