Jeff Flake, who’s retiring from the Senate at the end of his term, is obviously positioning himself to be the Republican challenger to President Donald Trump in 2020.
His platform? Like the Democrats, it’s simply this: I detest Trump.
Yes, he’s gearing for a run, all right. Think about it. He’s got the right amount of name recognition among the establishment. He’s got the anti-Trump book, anti-Trump media messaging and no doubt, anti-Trump bumper stickers being printed as we speak.
And he’s a savvy politician in that he doesn’t mind flipping and flopping in the wind when it behooves, or slamming Trump as a near neo-Nazi and Stalin-like dictator when the cameras are rolling.
For instance, to have Flake tell it, Trump is a big government guy standing in direct opposition to the Republican Party principles of limited government, free trade and free enterprise. Yet look at Flake’s voting record, courtesy of FiveThirtyEight tracking, and you’ll find the good senator from Arizona has actually voted in favor of Trump’s position nearly 91 percent of the time.
Here’s another for instance: Flake likes to say he’s simply stepping aside from his Senate seat out of some sense of moral outrage over the inability to tell the truth in this current White House atmosphere. This is how he put it during a November interview on “The View” with Joy Behar, who asked why he wasn’t seeking re-election: “If I could run the kind of race I’m used to running, if I could tell the truth,” I perhaps would run, he said.
“So you couldn’t win with that [truth],” Behar responded.
And this, from Flake: “No. You can’t. You can’t win a Republican primary right now if you’re willing to stand up and say, ‘This is not right. This is not normal.’ ”
But peer past the “I cannot tell a lie” mantra, and it’s revealed: Flake’s primary poll numbers with Arizona voters were in the tank. In August, The Hill reported Flake’s approval around 18 percent. In October, The Washington Post reported he was likely to lose his primary.
The takeaway? Flake didn’t step away from a re-election bid out of moral outrage or on a principled stand. He stepped away because he couldn’t win.
Shhh, once again.
And then of course, there was this, Flake’s latest anti-Trump yada yada, to MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt on Sunday, while speaking of Trump’s reference to the media as the enemy of the American people: “[Trump] borrowed that phrase. It was popularized by Josef Stalin, used by Mao as well,” he said.
No doubt, Flake’s got in his mind that he can take his anti-Trump message national and, in the vein of campaigning Democrats, make a real mark with moderate American voters by positioning himself as the GOPer With the Diplomatic Touch, the one who’s Not Trump.
“I think [Trump] will have a challenge. He’ll certainly have a challenge from somebody as an independent. But I think he’ll likely have a challenge in the Republican Party as well. I am not the only one — the only Republican who is saying, ‘You know, I’m not sure this is my party. We used to stand for limited government and free trade, free enterprise and not this kind of nationalist, protectionist kind of party,’ ” Flake said, in this same interview, Breitbart reported.
And who’s the guy to do it — to take back the Republican Party envisioned by Flake?
“I won’t rule it out,” Flake said of a personal run. “It’s not in my plans. But I’m not willing to rule it out.”
But in political speak — political speak that Flake’s proven very adept at using — that means: He’s likely running. Mark my words, look for him on stage. He’ll be the Republican in the blue suit wearing the donkey pin.
Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley.
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