Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) delivered a rebuke to President Donald Trump from the Senate floor on Wednesday, shortly announcing that he would retire from Congress in 2019 (rather than face certain defeat in his 2018 GOP primary).
Flake’s speech was full of lofty platitudes and high-minded accusations against the president, charging Trump with ignoring the truth and violating the norms of democratic politics.
Flake could not, and did not, name any particular policy differences with the president. Nor, in his litany of complaints about Trump’s “behavior,” did Flake name anything that Trump had actually done to warrant criticism (as opposed to hinting at things that Trump had said).
It was a rant that recapitulated the #NeverTrump talking points of 2016, painting Trump as a man unfit to serve as president, regardless of what Trump might achieve — and is achieving — for the conservative cause once in office.
As with the speeches by former president George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) last week, Flake said nothing about the role that the American left has played in degrading our democracy — reducing every political question to race; fomenting class warfare to push interventionist government programs and redistributive policies; trashing the First Amendment on college campuses; and ignoring the Constitution whenever it proved inconvenient.
Nor did Flake mention the issue that is most responsible for his eroding support at home — namely, immigration. After running for Senate in 2012 on his conservative record in the U.S. House, Flake joined the “Gang of Eight” and tried to push through an immigration bill that would have given legal status to millions of illegal aliens before establishing that U.S. borders were secure — exactly the formula Republican voters had rejected for many years.
Flake fretted about what he called the “silence and inaction” of his colleagues, as if some great crime had been committed, for which they would bear guilt. Few of them — even those most supportive of Trump — have held their tongues when they have disagreed with Trump, on rhetoric or policy. But Flake seeks to tar the whole GOP as accomplices to an amorphous set of sins, known only to the establishment, the Beltway media, and the Democrats.
The speech is being praised to the skies by the mainstream media and by the usual NeverTrumpers. But it was the most narcissistic gesture since Flake pinched Barry Goldwater’s classic title, Conscience of a Conservative, for his own book.
It was also an act of cowardice. Having proclaimed the importance of his principles, Flake then refused to fight for them. It was the same retreat Republican voters have seen their leaders make for decades — until Trump.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
This post has been updated.