Republican Sen. Jeff Flake hasn’t shied away from the fact that he was about to lose his senate seat in a GOP primary. Instead, he’s decided to use his departure from Washington as a chance to hawk his book which bears a title that shamelessly rips off an iconic work of the same name.
In an interview with CNN political commentator and former Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod, which aired in part over the weekend, Flake decried Republican engagement in the culture wars, touted his gun control bill, and hit President Trump over his criticisms of American media. The book, the TV appearances, the gun control bills are all part of a sad attempt to rebrand himself as #relevant.
In the sprawling hour-and-a-half-long interview, which you can listen to in full here, though I don’t know why you would, you can’t make up the level of irony surrounding Flake’s story. He laughs off the fact he is from Snowflake, Arizona, and that he has a carved rhinoceros figurine in is office.
“I guess I’ve just embraced it,” he quipped about the fact that he is often called a Republican In Name Only, or RINO for short.
At the start of the conversation, he explains that he thinks the GOP went off the rails when Republican figures started to wade into the culture wars.
“We kind of stopped being the party of limited government, economic freedom, individual responsibility and kind of drifted off to fight the culture wars,” Flake said. “That’s when you always know you’re in a bad place, when you stop talking as Republican about limited government or limited 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.”
Flake said the 2005 bill calling for a federal court to review that Terri Schiavo’s rights were not violated when her husband was allowed to dehydrate her, was part of what he calls the Republican Party’s demise.
“When we started doing that, in 2006 with Terri Schiavo issues and whatnot,” he said. “I knew we were in trouble. We lost the majority in the House and the Senate at that time.”
This isn’t the first time Flake has falsely claimed that Republicans used the Schiavo bill as a wedge issue to shore up its base and scare off members from across the aisle. In a “Face The Nation” appearance last July, the Arizona senator said something similar, but he’s so very wrong about the partisan nature of the bill. The bill, which merely asked that a federal court review the state courts proceedings that gave a disabled woman’s husband permission to dehydrate her to death, was one of the most bipartisan passed during George W. Bush’s tenure in the Oval Office. Not a single Democratic senator voted against the bill and of the 100 House Democrats in office at the time, nearly half (47 to be exact) voted in favor of it. Then Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both voted for the bill, though Obama later said he regretted the decision.
His claim that the Schiavo bill was a rallying cry which heralded in the GOP’s collapse is totally false and his characterization of the culture wars is uncharitable and stupid. Republican engagement with the culture wars didn’t arise from a vacuum. For decades, liberals have poured gasoline on the flames in cultural spaces, pushing lawmakers to blot out bits of the Bill of Rights that they don’t like. One only needs to have caught any of the awards shows this past year or have turned on cable news for more than two minutes to see how far left things have turned. It makes sense for culturally conservative individuals to elect people who they expect to take a stand for their values, if anything, to deter institutionalized religious persecution. But I guess Flake is too busy racking up Ls for his over-the-top Trump comparisons to have noticed that.
Next, Flake took plenty of time to pander to members of the media in decrying Trump’s use of the term “fake news.”
“Calling real news fake and fake news real, that has real ramifications, particularly internationally,” he said. “When authoritarians everywhere now borrow that language to justify on cracking down on dissent and legitimate opposition as fake news. … that has ramifications. Long term ramifications.”
It’s no wonder Flake has become the darling of Sunday talk shows.
He also touted his “No Fly, No Buy” bill, which, with help from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), would strip away a citizens Second Amendment right to bear arms if he or she finds themselves on a no-fly list. Of course he leaves out the part about how 40 percent of those listed on a terror watchlist have “no affiliation with recognized terrorism groups.” A 2015 Department of Homeland Security examination found that 73 of TSA’s own employees were on the list, which raises questions not just about TSA hiring practices, but about the list itself. There’s a good chance, it seems, one can end up on a no-fly list arbitrarily or by mistake, which means that Flake’s bill could take away one’s constitutional rights at the drop of a hat and for arbitrary or inconsistent reasons.
After refusing to “swear off” the possibility of running for president in 2020, Flake added that he thinks Trump will face a challenge in the GOP primary leading up to the election.
“I do think the President will have a challenge from the Republican Party,” he said, “I think there should be. I also think there will be an Independent challenge, particularly if the Democrats insist on putting somebody up from the far left of the party. Two years is a long time in politics.”
So let’s get this straight. A senator who doesn’t have the support from his own state to win another term in Congress, who has become the media’s favorite Republican for loud criticisms of Trump and many others in his own party, who is comfortable with stripping citizens of their constitutional rights at will, is supposed to be the guy who’s going to save America? I’m sorry, but no.
What’s perhaps the most pathetic part of this interview is the part that’s obvious to everyone. Everyone except Jeff Flake. Members of the media and Democratic operatives, which in David Axelrod’s case, are one in the same, are clearly using Flake to further their own purposes. These purposes are ones that do not help further the cause of conservatism.
Axelrod and others aren’t actually interested in Flake because they think he is at all relevant. They are pretending his book and his self-important soliloquies are newsworthy precisely because they aren’t. Jeff Flake is not the voice of conservatism, nor is he the guy to rally principled Americans, disillusioned with deeply partisan divides in Congress, towards saving our country from the brink of fiscal ruin. He’s a sad trope of the kind of Republican Aaron Sorkin would dream up in a plot line for “The West Wing.” The kind of Republican who doesn’t really care about the Second Amendment, the kind who mocks the GOP’s decision to wade into the culture war, the kind of Republican who ultimately will lose to a charismatic Democrat every time.