As Republicans face a potential Democratic wave in this year’s midterm elections, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake argued Thursday that his party “might not deserve to lead” given its support for President Donald Trump.
“If we are going to cloister ourselves in the alternative truth of an erratic leader, if we are going to refuse to live in a world that everyone else lives in … then my party might not deserve to lead,” the Arizona senator said in a speech at the National Press Club.
Flake argued that “as we are discovering … there is no damage like the damage that a president can do.” He repeated a call he’s been making for months to restore civility to politics during the Trump era, using lofty rhetoric to describe what he hopes will one day be a reckoning for American politics.
“If one voice can do such profound damage to our values and to our civic life,” he said, “then one voice can also repair the damage, one voice can call us to a higher idea of America, one voice can act as a beacon to help us find ourselves once again after this terrible fever breaks – and it will break.”
Flake, who was facing a tough re-election bid and decided not to run for a second term in the Senate, has become a fiercely outspoken critic of the President. He’s delivered major speeches on the Senate floor targeting Trump and wrote a book blasting his own party for enabling Trump’s success.
“Never has a party abandoned, fled its principles and deeply held beliefs so quickly as my party did in the face of the nativist juggernaut,” he said Thursday. “We have become strangers to ourselves.”
His biggest complaints against Trump involve the President’s attacks on the media, his track record of telling falsehoods and what Flake describes as dysfunctional leadership from the White House.
His stunning rebuke of a president from his own party has many speculating that Flake may launch a GOP primary challenge against Trump in 2020 – an idea further fueled by the fact that Flake will stop in New Hampshire on Friday. Flake has repeatedly said he’s not ruling out the idea of a presidential run, though it’s not in his current plans.
“Those who vote in Republican primaries are overwhelmingly supportive of the President,” he said Thursday. “I think that could turn and will turn and must turn. But that is the case right now. It would be a tough challenge for anyone to take, and I just hope someone does it.”
Trump has previously returned the fire. He told a small group of Republicans he was prepared to spend $10 million on defeating Flake in the primary, and he publicly offered support on Twitter for one of Flake’s GOP challengers last year when it appeared Flake would run for re-election. He’s also referred to the senator and former US congressman as “Flake(y)” and “unelectable” on Twitter.