By: Connor McNairn, Columnist
Since announcing his presidential candidacy, Donald Trump has promoted an erratic political brand that is enthusiastically welcomed by millions of Americans. For Trump supporters who have long abhorred the watered-down, diplomatic dialogue of Washington, the president’s colloquial, anti-establishment political style serves as a refreshing change. For some prominent congressional Republicans, however, Trump’s discordant behavior is “dangerous to [our] democracy.”
The ideological fissures in the Republican Party grew slightly wider last week after Arizona Senator Jeff Flake delivered a sharp rebuke of the president from the Senate floor. In fact, the description “sharp rebuke” does not properly depict Flake’s speech; Flake genuinely dismantled the president on political, intellectual and moral levels. He also targeted Republicans who have supported President Trump’s rhetoric, calling them “complicit” and “misguided.” Flake’s stunning criticisms came shortly after the release of his best-selling book, Conscience of a Conservative, within which he also very blatantly criticized the boorishness of the president.
Flake’s speech last week was a remarkable show of dissent — one which joined the likes of John McCain, Bob Corker, the occasional Lindsey Graham and others.
Additionally, at the end of Flake’s critique, he announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate. Prior to the speech, Flake’s approval ratings in Arizona were low. With truly nothing left to lose, Flake used his Tuesday Senate speech to make his final stand against the current administration and the increasingly unstable alt-right presence in Republican politics.
Flake’s show of defiance also proved striking in the midst of Steve Bannon’s continued assault against congressional Republicans. Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, has turned heads in his pursuit of alt-right figureheads to lead the Republican Party towards nationalistic goals. Following Flake’s announcement, Bannon scoffed that Flake “went down without a fight.”
Republicans, and all Americans in fact, should be exceptionally proud of Flake and his actions last Tuesday. Flake made it perfectly clear that his political popularity, a measure which ultimately determines his employment status, was not as important as defending American principles from the perverse antics of a narcissistic president. Flake put his head on the proverbial chopping block to defend the integrity of the U.S. presidency against Trump’s proclivity for tweeting, insulting and creating drama.
Flake’s statement, although lauded by moderates and Democrats alike, received plenty of criticism from Republicans.
Certainly, the president wasted no time criticizing Senator Flake, tweeting that he was retiring because he “had zero chance of winning reelection.” In addition to the president, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders condescendingly cited Flake’s popularity as justification for his retirement. And quite expectedly, House Speaker Paul Ryan offered a stale message for Flake, which he noted Flake’s support of limited government principles and constitutional doctrine, yet mentioned neither Trump’s behavior nor the content of Flake’s speech.
While the significance of Flake’s speech is difficult to overstate, it is the reactions of the American voters and our elected officials following the speech that will ultimately make the most significant impact on contemporary political dialogues. McCain and Corker have both been highly critical of the president and will not seek reelection in the Senate. Now that Senator Flake has joined their company, we must wait and hope that other Republican lawmakers will condemn the president’s antics with as much vigor and resilience as McCain, Corker and Flake. As Flake clarified on Tuesday, “there are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles.” May more of our elected officials recognize this reality and continue to exercise arguably the most patriotic form of free speech — dissent.