Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is still telling anyone who will listen that he is not supporting the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
“I just know that I would like to vote for Donald Trump. It’s not comfortable to not support your nominee. But, given the positions that he has taken and the tone and tenor of his campaign, I simply can’t,” Flake told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday morning. Flake added that he is not voting for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, either.
In response, Trump tweeted Sunday: “The Republican Party needs strong and committed leaders, not weak people such as @JeffFlake, if it is going to stop illegal immigration.”
Critics, and even a few Trump supporters, are aghast: Why would Trump attack a fellow Republican, this late in the campaign — and especially in a state where he is barely ahead by a few points?
But there is good reason for Trump to hit back at Flake — and Flake deserves every bit of damage it might cause him.
Flake represents the amnesty wing of the Republican Party. He was a core part of the “Gang of Eight,” an ill-fated attempt by hyper-partisan Senate Democrats like Charles Schumer (D-NY) to pass amnesty under the guise of bipartisanship. The bill — a legislative morass rivaling Obamacare in its length and complexity — failed to put border security before legalization, a key Republican demand.
Fighting with Flake is a good way for Trump to reinforce the idea that he stands for a tougher approach.
In addition, Flake has come to represent what voters detest about Washington, D.C. Though Fox News praised him Monday morning as the most “honest” man on Capitol Hill, the fact is that Flake sold himself to voters as a conservative and has been governing as a moderate ever since. He has been weak on nearly every single issue — including, inexplicably, the Iran deal. He has been intolerant toward conservatives, even suggesting a “purge” of those wanting to restrict Muslim immigration.
By opposing Flake publicly, Trump therefore sets himself up as the alternative to bait-and-switch Washington politics as usual.
Yet it is also worth noting that Trump did not start this particular fight. Flake did, because he sees personal and political gain in doing so — and likely sees more to gain from a Trump loss.
There is no other reason, this late in a campaign, to disparage the party’s nominee. Democrats, for example, are silent on Hilary Clinton’s mounting scandals, including clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing and incompetence, because without the White House they may have little else to control. Flake clearly anticipates a more favorable political environment for moderates in a shattered, post-Trump Republican Party.
He wanted this fight — and so he is getting it. And he deserves it, because the notion that not voting for Trump does not mean helping Clinton is an absurd fallacy. Those at a safe removed from the battleground — say, in deep-red or deep-blue states — can afford the luxury of neutrality. Those on the front lines cannot — and those in positions of official responsibility have a duty to support, or at least not oppose, their party’s nominee.
The only way to enforce that duty is precisely the way Trump has done it — to advertise Flake as “weak,” i.e. as a future primary target. The recent landslide win for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) may have encouraged Flake to gamble that he has little to fear in 2018.
As they say: Good luck with that.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.