Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) delivered a speech in New Hampshire on Friday morning in which he called for a primary challenge to President Donald Trump in 2020 and criticized the Republican Party.
Speaking at the “Politics and Eggs” breakfast at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, Flake, who did not vote for Trump in 2016, began by declaring: “I stand before you today, the rarest of species: the American conservative, Americanus nevertrumpus.”
He said that the very meaning of the word “conservative” had been gutted during the Trump administration, and true conservatives — like himself — had been discarded.
“We have a libertine, budget-busting president who exudes chaos and dotes on authoritarians, who’s replaced the State Department with Twitter, who lives in a golden palace when he’s not in the White House, and he’s the conservative.
“Just for argument’s sake, I grew up busting broncs and castrating bulls. My wife cuts my hair because I’m too cheap to go to a barber … I killed earmarks while in the house, scored a perfect 100 with the Club for Growth, and have a lifetime rating of 94 with the American Conservative Union. And I’m the RINO. … It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. What have we done with all the conservatives?”
Flake announced his retirement from the Senate last October, faced with polls that showed he could not win re-election in Arizona.
In New Hampshire, he accused fellow Republicans of “defining deviancy down” by tolerating President Trump’s rhetorical excesses.
He also called the Trump administration “an anomalous presidency.”
“‘Pay attention to what he does, not what he says,’ people say. Those calls, of course, ignore the entirety of American history and exhort us to adopt a new norm to accommodate undignified public behavior just for this one president.”
He accused the president of threatening the independence of the judiciary, and of the integrity of law enforcement. And he accused conservatives who support Trump of “a rejection of the optimistic vision of Ronald Reagan, the extraordinary decency of George H.W. Bush, the principled constitutionalism of Barry Goldwater.” And he accused Republicans of putting party before country, saying that the party had abandoned its principles faster “than anyone has before.”
Flake attacked Trump for several recent comments, including his claim that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) — who has repeatedly called for the president’s impeachment — has a “low IQ.” He accused Trump of “swinging insults like a bad comic at a cheap roast.”
“My party does not deserve to lead,” he said, if Republicans tolerate Trump’s mannerisms.
During a question-and-answer session that followed his speech, Flake said he was not planning to run or president, but that he had not ruled it out.
“I hope that someone does run in the Republican primary, somebody to challenge the president. I think the Republicans want to be reminded what it means to be a traditional, decent Republican, and what the party stands for: limited government, economic freedom, free trade, embracing immigration — these are the things that have made the party what it is, over the years.”
One member of the audience, challenging Flake to live up to his own motto, “Look for the good,” asked the senator to identify good things Trump had done.
Flake’s answer: in negotiations over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Trump offered a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal aliens.
He did not mention tax cuts, judicial appointments, or foreign policy successes.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.