Wednesday on CNN’s “The Lead,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said Democrat Conor Lamb’s success in Pennsylvania should show Republicans they can not embrace President Donald Trump’s “insults” and attacks on Democrats and the free press.
Partial transcript as follows:
TAPPER: This was, last night, a stinging defeat for Republicans in Pennsylvania. What do you take away from the loss of what was considered a safe Republican seat?
FLAKE: I think it is a big lesson. It’s a lesson that you can only drill down on the base so far. We’ve got to broaden our appeal. That’s why I’ve been worried about what direction the Republican party is going. If we can’t win statewide elections like this, if we can’t win in purple districts like this, it should be a big wake-up call for Republicans.
TAPPER: You said over the weekend that perhaps a Republican should challenge President Trump in 2020. You’re heading to New Hampshire next week—what do you think the odds are that you might be that Republican to challenge President Trump? 50%?
FLAKE: Oh, no, long odds. It’s not in my plans. I haven’t ruled it out. I do think and I do hope that a Republican will challenge the president and to remind Republican what Republicans stand for—limited government, economic freedom, free trade, immigration. These are things that appeal to a broader base of the party and I think can win elections in the future. If we continue to just drill down on the base, I don’t think that our electoral fortunes are very bright.
TAPPER: Is there anyone you can think of who will deliver the message you are talking about other than you? John Kasich?
FLAKE: Yeah, John Kasich, Ben Sasse, would be great representatives for that message. There are a number of governors out there as well. But I just think that traditional Republicans—and it’s not just believing in the principles of conservatism. But it’s being conservative in demeanor and comportment as well— and not insulting people, not going to a rally and hoping to appeal to a broader base to win an election by making fun of the Democrats or tamping down criticism of Kim Jong-un, while encouraging criticism of our free press. These things are going to make it very difficult for Republicans to win in the future if we embrace that kind of message.
TAPPER: You and I have talked about this before, about in this country, during McCarthy era, which you wrote about in your book, there were a lot of Republicans who thought they could straddle these worlds of the indecent and the decent by not taking position. You feel that you have to take a position. Why are so few Republicans willing to criticize things that are, on their face, outrageous, like very personal attacks on Democrats, on the free press, et cetera?
FLAKE: I can tell you as a member of Congress that gets the questions daily, hourly from the press, whenever you get outside of your office in the hallway, it gets tiresome to answer these questions. And you can’t answer them all and you can’t respond to every tweet or statement out of White House. Having said that, when the president makes certain statements, or insults people, or takes certain actions, then it is our responsibility as elected officials to stand up and say, this is out of bounds. This we cannot stand for. And I hope that we have more people who will stand up and say that.
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