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Sen. Flake: Trump will have 2020 GOP challenge
(CNN) —  

Outgoing Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake says the Republican Party is in a “bad place,” and that President Trump does not behave in the way that “a conservative should act.”

In an interview on David Axelrod’s show, “The Axe Files,” airing on CNN Saturday at 7 p.m. ET, Flake blasted the direction the Republican Party was heading.

“We’ve stopped being the party of limited government, economic freedom, individual responsibility … and kind of drifted off to fight the culture wars,” said Flake, who announced late last year that he would not run for re-election.

“That’s when you always know you’re in a bad place. When you stop talking, as a Republican, about limited government or limiting spending and you start talking about flag burning or other cultural issues or immigration to try to make up for not being conservative fiscally. You have to emphasize other issues,” he said.

Flake, a frequent critic of Trump, said that though he had voted with the President in terms of policy, he ultimately didn’t believe Trump was even a conservative.

“Being a conservative is not just being conservative on policy. It’s being conservative in comportment and demeanor and manners. And we have any thing but that in the White House right now,” he said.

The President needs to understand, Flake argued, that “words matter,” especially when it comes to Trump’s fractious relationship with the media.

“When the President talks about the press as the enemy of the people, for example, and then talks about fake news, calling real news fake and fake news real, that has ramifications, particularly internationally. Authoritarians everywhere now borrow that language to justify cracking down on decent and legitimate opposition as fake news,” he said.

“A president should know better,” he said. “It’s not the way a conservative should act.”

Asked by Axelrod how this White House compared to others he’d worked with, Flake was blunt.

“It’s different, it really is. Definitely when you see the cabinet meetings, it’s kind of painful, frankly, to watch,” he said.

And what’s even more painful, he added, “is to see the Congress defer so much to the President.”

As for Flake’s 2017 speech on the Senate floor in which he slammed the “complicity” of his own party in what he called an “alarming and dangerous state of affairs,” and announced he wouldn’t run for re-election, the Arizona senator told Axelrod that he had no regrets.

“I certainly couldn’t win as a Republican running the kind of campaign that I felt that I needed to run.  I couldn’t – I just couldn’t see agreeing with some of the President’s positions and condoning his behavior, if that was the price to win re-election,” he said.