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  1. #1
    Senior Member Judy's Avatar
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    Aug 2005

    Jeff Flake’s Lesson for Republicans: Cross Trump at Your Own Risk

    Jeff Flake’s Lesson for Republicans: Cross Trump at Your Own Risk

    OCT. 15, 2017

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Before Bob Corker, there was Jeff Flake.

    Mr. Flake, the even-tempered Republican senator from Arizona, has for months offered stinging critiques of President Trump’s character, demeanor and truthfulness — the same message forcefully echoed a week ago by Mr. Corker, a Republican colleague from Tennessee, who warned that Mr. Trump’s reckless behavior could lead to “World War III.”

    But there is one crucial difference between the two: Mr. Flake, unlike Mr. Corker, is running for re-election. And now he finds himself in grave political peril.

    Mr. Flake is perhaps the most endangered Senate Republican, with an approval rating in one recent poll of just 18 percent among Arizonans. Mr. Trump has savaged Mr. Flake as “toxic” and a “flake,” and has encouraged a primary challenge against him that has left the senator squeezed not only from the left but also the right.

    His fate is an object lesson for other Republicans who might consider voicing dire thoughts about the president’s fitness: Cross Mr. Trump, and your political career could well be over.

    Mr. Flake, a Mormon known more for his decency than his independent streak, said he had no regrets.

    In an interview here, he ticked off some of his earliest criticisms of the president — from the days when Mr. Trump peddled the false theory that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, to the time Mr. Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” to his call for a complete ban on travel to the United States by Muslims — before looking up and stopping himself.

    “In which of those instances,” the senator asked, “should I not have spoken out? At what point should you not stand up and say, ‘This is not right; this is not conservative; this is not where Republicans ought to be?’”

    Mr. Flake said he had known from the start that taking on Mr. Trump might do him political harm. Even before he declared the president’s brand of populism a corruption of conservative values, he anticipated a tough primary challenge, given his policy differences with Mr. Trump on issues like immigration, trade and Cuba.

    “The truth is, if my only goal were to be elected, re-elected to mark time in the Senate, there are much easier paths,” he said.

    Mr. Flake is not the Senate’s only vulnerable Republican; Senator Dean Heller of Nevada is also facing a tough re-election race. And Republicans will now have to field a candidate to succeed Mr. Corker, who announced late last month that he was not running next year.

    Last weekend, Mr. Corker said his concerns about Mr. Trump were shared by nearly every Senate Republican, even if few have spoken out. Mr. Flake, by contrast, has put pen to paper with his criticism; his new book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” published in August, is a blistering indictment of the Republican Party and of a president who, despite record-low overall approval ratings, has retained the support of about 80 percent of his party.

    Mr. Flake’s main primary challenger at the moment, Kelli Ward, made clear in an interview that she intended to paint Mr. Flake as “an obstructionist to the America First agenda that Donald Trump touted on the campaign trail, and that the American people want to see enacted.”

    Ms. Ward, an osteopathic physician and a former state senator who ran unsuccessfully against Arizona’s other senator, John McCain, in 2016, was busy preparing last week for her campaign kickoff. It is scheduled for Tuesday night with the conservative radio host Laura Ingraham as the featured guest.

    Andy Surabian, senior adviser to the Great America Alliance, a Trump-aligned group whose political action committee has been supportive of Ms. Ward, said Mr. Flake’s troubles were “entirely self-inflicted.”

    “If Flake wants to know why he’s vulnerable, all he needs to do is look in the mirror,” said Mr. Surabian, who had a stint in the White House as deputy to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist. He added: “No one told him to go out and be the face of the anti-Trump resistance in the Republican Party. No one told him to go out and write a book that was basically an anti-Trump screed. The reason the race is in play is because of Jeff Flake’s actions.”

    Mr. Flake said he felt compelled to write the book because Republicans had lost their way with the rise of Mr. Trump. His assessment of the president is biting.

    “We pretended the emperor wasn’t naked,” Mr. Flake wrote. “Even worse: We checked our critical faculties at the door and pretended that the emperor was making sense.”

    While Mr. Corker had likened the White House to an “adult day care center” and said Mr. Trump was treating his office like a reality show, Mr. Flake said in the interview that he might not have used those words. But he clearly agrees with his Tennessee colleague.

    “A conservative is conservative in demeanor and comportment — not just policy,” he said. “And the way you conduct foreign policy as a conservative is that you are steady and measured and predictable. And that’s not what we have now.”

    Such comments have not gone over well at home, said Mayor Jim Lane of Scottsdale. The mayor, who calls himself a conservative Republican, said he was not currently backing Mr. Flake, whom he views as exacerbating divisions within the party and undermining the president’s agenda.

    “It’s difficult, particularly when there’s a lot of people who feel very, very strongly about the president’s agenda and party’s agenda,” Mr. Lane said, adding, “Any time we sense that is not a priority, for any of our delegation, that becomes a bit of a problem.”

    Mr. Flake favors immigration and free trade — stances that put him at philosophical odds not only with the president, but also with many Arizonans. In 2013, he was part of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” group of senators who put forth an immigration overhaul that would have offered immigrants in the country illegally a path to citizenship. It passed the Senate with 68 votes but died in the House. He also worked closely with Mr. Obama to open relations with Cuba.

    Ms. Ward, his Republican challenger, is aligned more closely with Mr. Trump, though her critics in the party have portrayed her as a fringe candidate, and Mr. Trump, while praising her on Twitter, has not given her an explicit endorsement. Mr. Bannon, who has declared “war” on establishment Republicans, is said to be hunting for stronger candidates than Ms. Ward to take on Mr. Flake.

    Among them are Robert Graham, a former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, and Jay Heiler, a wealthy businessman. Both said in interviews that they were contemplating jumping into the race, and expected to make decisions by the end of the month. When Mr. Trump went to Arizona in August for a rally, he met privately with Mr. Graham and the Arizona state treasurer, Jeff DeWit, to urge them to consider running, Mr. Graham said.

    “This is more about protecting the seat for Republicans,” Mr. Graham said, adding, “Candidly, I think we need a viable candidate.”

    If Mr. Flake survives his primary — a big if, many Republicans here say — he will have to worry about his left flank: Representative Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist Democrat with a powerful biography, recently announced that she would seek Mr. Flake’s seat.

    Rodd McLeod, a Democratic strategist here, said Ms. Sinema’s entry into the race would make it more difficult for Mr. Flake — who has a firmly conservative voting record, though his mild temperament can make him seem more moderate — to appeal to swing voters.

    “You’ve got a situation now where the swing constituency, independent women, are looking at this guy and saying, ‘He’s real right wing,’ and then you’ve got the right-wing voters saying he hasn’t been respectful enough to Trump,” Mr. McLeod said. “And the liberal base is fired up, and they can turn out in big numbers.”

    Indeed, each Friday at noon in the sweltering Arizona heat, a group calling itself “Stand for Sane Government” pickets Mr. Flake’s office here.

    Among the regulars is William Riley, a family practice doctor who complains that despite Mr. Flake’s criticisms of Mr. Trump, he almost always votes with the president. (An analysis by FiveThirtyEight, the political blog, found that Mr. Flake had voted with Mr. Trump 91.5 percent of the time.)

    “He wrote a book about the conscience of a libertarian, yet he’s voted along the lines of the things he has criticized,” Dr. Riley said. “So my only conclusion is he doesn’t have a conscience.”

    Mr. Flake, 54, is a scion of a pioneer Mormon family and a product of the American West; he grew up on a ranch in the tiny Northern Arizona town of Snowflake, which is named in part named for his ancestors. Family legend has it that Brigham Young, the early Mormon leader, sent Mr. Flake’s great-grandfather from Utah to settle in Arizona.

    The Flakes are a political family — the senator’s father was once mayor of Snowflake — and Mr. Flake ran a libertarian think tank, the Goldwater Institute, named for the deeply conservative Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, before being elected to the House in 2000.

    In his early years in Congress, he developed a reputation as a budget hawk who challenged party leaders to get rid of so-called earmarks, in which federal money is steered to lawmakers’ pet projects. But in the Senate, which he joined in 2013, Mr. Flake has not carved out much of a reputation, other than for being a nice guy.

    “He’s going to have to define who he is, what his record is and what he’s accomplished,” said David Winston, a Republican strategist in Washington. “This is really going to be a vote about him and his incumbency.”

    As to who he is, Mr. Flake puts it this way: “I’m a conservative in, I think, the traditional sense of the word: a Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan conservative that believes in limited government, economic freedom, free trade, pro-immigration. That’s the kind of conservative I am, and that’s my record.”

    But is that the kind of conservative who is welcome in the Republican Party in the Trump era? Mr. Flake smiled wanly.

    “That,” the senator said, “is the question.”
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  2. #2
    Senior Member Judy's Avatar
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    Aug 2005
    A Nation Without Borders Is Not A Nation - Ronald Reagan
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