Flake Out

Today’s big nooz:

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) will retire from the Senate at the end of his term, saying he was out of step with his party in the era of President Trump.  …

… In an unannounced Senate floor speech Tuesday announcing his retirement, Flake excoriated Trump without using his name.

“We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that is just the way things are now. If we simply become used to this condition . . . then heaven help us,” Flake said, his voice shaking. “Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe, we must stop pretending that the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused as telling it like it is when it is actually reckless, outrageous and undignified.”

Flake was first elected to the Senate in 2012 and was up for re-election next year. Before that he served in the House, beginning 2001.

“It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we doing to do about that?,” Flake 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? I rise to say, enough.”

Flake said senators “must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal. With respect, we fooled ourselves long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that. by now, we all know better than that.”  …

… “It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path” in the Republican Party, he said.

The speech got a standing ovation from those senators present. Responding with her usual graciousness, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Flake was being petty and was such a loser he wouldn’t have won re-election anyway.

Josh Marshall reminds us that Flake was a “very conservative Republican” who has been a reliable vote for Trump’s nonsense. Even so,

 I’m still pretty stunned by this turn of events. We know Trump is a bull in a china shop. We know that he’s creating cross-cutting tensions within the GOP that are hard to navigate. We know that everyone around President Trump gets damaged. But Flake giving up his seat just makes the impact of Trump, the electoral carnage palpable and visible in an entirely new way.

Jeff Flake is 54 years old. He served a dozen years in the House before running for the Senate in 2012, the first opening that came up while he was in Congress. Politicians don’t put in that time building a base and a political track to bail out of the Senate after one term. Basically not ever. Certainly not for someone like Jeff Flake.

No, sentimentality. But wow. The carnage and the stress and the destruction. There will be much more. Trump is poison. He arranges around himself, the worst and least principled sort of people. We’ll all be damaged more.

What’s up with Trump and Flake?  David Nakamura and Ed O’Keefe wrote this in the Washington Post last August:

President Trump went on the offensive Thursday against two Republican senators, attacking them for their recent criticisms of his divisive governing style and response to the violence in Charlottesville.

In a morning tweetstorm, Trump lambasted Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), calling Graham “publicity-seeking” and Flake “toxic” and endorsing a primary challenger to Flake in his reelection bid next year. Flake recently published a book that was highly critical of Trump. …

Flake wrote in his book that Republicans abandoned their principles in the face of Trump’s unorthodox campaign and surrendered to the “politics of anger.” The party gave in to “the belief that riling up the base can make up for failed attempts to broaden the electorate,” Flake wrote in “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.”“These are the spasms of a dying party.”

Even earlier, last May, Flake got into trouble with Trump by publicly doubting that the Republicans would have a viable replacement health care law to vote on before the August break, which certainly turned out to be true. Former Arizona state senator Kelli Ward criticized Flake for not being enough of an obsequious toady toward Trump, and she issued a primary challenge. Trump noisily endorsed Ward over Flake a few weeks ago.

Just to illustrate what sort of class act Ward is, after Sen. John McCain announced he had brain cancer, Ward publicly stated that McCain should resign at once, and by the way, she was available to fill his seat.

Ward is not winning hearts and minds.

A Republican super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday took a shot at former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward (R), arguing that she will not be the Republican nominee in the wake of Sen. Jeff Flake‘s (R-Ariz.) decision to not run for reelection.

Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) has been critical of Ward, who had launched a primary challenge to the right of Flake and has the backing of pro-Trump outside group Great America Alliance. Flake sent shockwaves throughout the political world when he announced on Tuesday that he wouldn’t run for a second term in 2018.

“Sen. Jeff Flake will be remembered for a distinguished and impactful career in Congress, as well as his independent streak and genial manner,” Senate Leadership Fund president Steven Law said in a statement.

“The one political upshot of Sen. Flake’s decision today is that Steve Bannon’s hand-picked candidate, conspiracy-theorist Kelli Ward, will not be the Republican nominee for this Senate seat in 2018.”

Flake’s departure will likely open up the Republican field and now leaves a spot open for a candidate as an alternative to Ward.

Just yesterday, we learned that Ward may not be Trumpian enough, either.

This past April, two Breitbart alumni joined the campaign of Kelli Ward, an insurgent conservative preparing to challenge Republican Sen. Jeff Flake on a familiar Trump-style platform to “drain the swamp” and “Make America Great Again.”

Ward officially kicked off her campaign last week at an event attended by Fox News’s Laura Ingraham and Breitbart executive chair and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Later that same day, the two Breitbart writers, Jennifer Lawrence and Dustin Stockton, quit. After working on her campaign for more than six months, they had come to believe that Ward was not the true believer she claimed to be.

So, the Right isn’t just breaking up into pro- and anti-Trump factions; it is breaking up into varying degrees of Trumpism factions. And the senate race in Arizona next year is going to be right out of the Wild West.

Anyway, Flake will still be in the Senate until January 2019, which would be a good time to focus on his presidential nomination exploratory committee. (He wrote a book. That’s why senators write books; to run for POTUS.) His announcement today makes it possible for him to become a leader of the anti-Trump faction within the GOP. It also means he has no reason to kiss Trump’s ass, ever.