The Slatest

Watch Jeff Flake Attempt a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Moment by Denouncing Trump on Senate Floor

Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake—who has been a vocal critic of the president for some time, though his criticism has crucially not translated into substantive resistance of the president’s agenda—announced Tuesday that he would not be running for re-election in 2018. Flake was already facing a primary challenge from Breitbart-backed far-right conspiracy enthusiast Kelli Ward, and with his statewide approval rating at 18 percent a general election likely wouldn’t have been a cakewalk either. So it’s with a grain of salt that one should take the speech he delivered this afternoon on the Senate floor, in which he announced that “we must risk our careers in favor of our principles” while denouncing “the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch.”

Nonetheless, we’re still talking about a comprehensive attack on a first-year president by a sitting senator from his own party which, historically, is not something you see very often. Some excerpts:

  • “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”
  • “We must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.”
  • “Would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats? Of course we wouldn’t. And we would be wrong if we did. When we remained silent and failed to act when we know that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseam—when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of our institutions and our liberty, we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations.”
  • “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.” (What could he be referring to???)
  • “For the moment we have given in or given up on core principles in favor of a more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment.”

Said Flake: “I will be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself of the political consideration that consumed far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles.”

The question now: Will Flake follow through? Will he support aggressive investigations into the Trump administration’s corruption and shady ties to Russia? Will he criticize dishonest presidential rhetoric even when it supports conventional conservative goals on issues like taxes and health care? Will he support calls for Trump to release his own tax returns? Will he publicly push for for such initiatives as universal gun-sale background checks and path-to-citizenship immigration reform that are supported by the majority of Americans but not by the Trump-enthralled GOP “base”? Will he?

I guess we’ll see!