Terry H. Schwadron

Oct. 26, 2017

OK, let’s talk political character.

Nevermind that namby-pamby stuff about policies and trying to serve the American people. Realpolitik stuff about who’s winning and who’s a dog.

The announcement yesterday by Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a genuine conservative who votes for tax cuts and against a whole lot of things I find good, decided to opt out of reelection, based on the untenable position of having to find himself trying to support Donald Trump as president.

“I will not be complicit,” Flake said, joining Sen. Bob Corker, John McCain and Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania –even former President George W. Bush — as solid Republicans who basically cannot stand Donald Trump, Trumpism, and what they see as the absence of good character. While they may or not vote on legislation wanted by Trump, they reject the style and brutishness of President Trump, his insulting style, his divisive political positions, his propensity to lie and to suborn truth. They hate what we see daily in Trump’s lashing out against a Gold Star widow, to NFL players who respectfully protest racism, a San Juan mayor, or anyone who will not bow down to show personal loyalty to his own image of Donald Trump.

Finally, we’re seeing in public what we had hoped was going on in backrooms in Republican get-togethers, in homes that have soured on having backed or asked for giving Trump a chance, calling out Trump as a troublesome bully without core values and, in their words, making the American position in the world less important.

Flake said running in the Republican primary towards a 2018 election would require him to “condone behavior that I cannot condone.”

“The path that I would have to travel to get the Republican nomination is a path I’m not willing to take, and that I can’t in good conscience take,” Flake said. “It would require me to believe in positions I don’t hold on such issues as trade and immigration and it would require me to condone behavior that I cannot condone.”

Still, Flake’s decision to withdraw was as much a victory for the Trump forces in taking over the Republican party as it was for the rest of us to see a person of conscience say that Trump’s behavior puts him over the political edge. After all, it is
Trump ally Stephen K. Bannon who has been threatening to primary Flake and others who raise questions about the President’s agenda.

Flake was not angry in his Senate remarks. Like Corker and McCain before him, the words of criticism for Trump were being offered in even temperature and tone. By constrast, Trump’s tweets against Corker that resumed yesterday sound like yelling.

Corker, the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared early on three major morning shows ostensibly to preview his party’s tax plan ahead of President Trump’s visit to the Capitol for a lunch with Senate Republicans.

But Corker used the appearances to renew his criticism of the President, who retaliated with a number of tweets. Corker called Trump “utterly untruthful,” expressed hope that he would stand aside to allow Congress to formulate a tax plan, worried aloud about the president’s divisive style and that he would like to see Trump leave foreign matters, including North Korea policy, to the “professionals.”

Corker tweeted himself, saying someone should #AlertTheDayCareStaff.

The point is, there is a real split in the Republican Party, and the only question is whether it is deep and significant enough to prove permanent.

The focus of Flake’s remarks was that under current circumstances, it is nearly impossible for someone who has backed traditional Republican values to run for office, and that Trump is leading a general campaign marked by anger and blame. “For the moment we have given in or given up on core principles in favor of a more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment,” Flake said.

“We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that is just the way things are now. If we simply become used to this condition . . . then heaven help us,” Flake said, adding. “Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe, we must stop pretending that the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused as telling it like it is when it is actually reckless, outrageous and undignified.”

There has been a lot of coverage lately about where Republican money is going. Bannon specifically has warned that he is trying to siphon money away from non-Trump Republicans. Yet there has been some reporting that some Republican funders are upset with the continuing Trump campaign style in the White House.

Flake would have faced an unpleasant primary; on some level, wrapping his departure at end of term to a higher cause obscures that hard political fact.

I, for one, am glad that he did.

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