Jeff Flake

Of COURSE Donald Trump Hates Jeff Flake: The Senator Preferences Fiscal Conservatism Over Party Politics

Weekend spat reveals much about the state of the contemporary GOP.


Surprisingly, not created by a Trump supporter. ||| Crooks and Liars
Crooks and Liars

This Sunday, on CNN's State of the Union, host Jake Tapper asked Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) which presidential nominee he'd vote for if the election were held today:

FLAKE: I would not vote for Hillary Clinton. And, as of now, I would still not vote for Donald Trump.

TAPPER: So, if you—if you don't want to vote for either of them, would you vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian?

FLAKE: You can always write somebody in.

So, 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.

Later in the interview, Flake said "I think Republicans do need to distance themselves from Donald Trump," and blamed Trump's rhetoric for putting the reliably Republican state of Arizona into presidential play.

Trump's response was not surprising.

Flake has not been shy about his criticism of Trump, and Arizona Republicans have been equally non-reticent about throwing those comments back in the senator's face. Meanwhile, the headline over at Trumpbart News nearly wrote itself: "Jeff Flake Started the Fight With Trump, and Deserves It."

Jeff Flake in Havana. ||| Matt Welch
Matt Welch

None of this should be remotely surprising. In a long interview with Reason this January (in Cuba!), Flake sounded multiple alarm bells about the direction of his own political party. Some quotes:

* "It is a very, very disturbing trend that we're seeing in the Republican Party against free trade. It's always been there but usually confined to a few isolated members, the Jeff Sessions of the world and others, but now it seems to be spreading."

* "My sense on immigration is not just that Republicans risk alienating the largest-growing demographic, the Hispanic population, in the country, but that we're a serious national party and we need to have a serious policy. Simply saying we're going to build a wall and deport everybody who's here is not a serious policy."

* "If you want to know what keeps me up at night more than anything—and there are plenty of threats out there—it's waking up some morning and having the markets already decided that we're not going to buy your debt anymore, or we're only going to buy it at a premium and interest rates are going to have to go up. When that happens, then virtually all of our discretionary or non-military discretionary spending goes just to service the debt and then we are Japan."

* "I was in Congress between 2000 and 2006 when we had Republicans controlling both chambers and the White House. I can tell you that whenever entitlement spending or social security reform came up, you'd hear, 'We've got a midterm election just around the corner, we're not going to take that risk.'"

On that latter note, Flake has been consistent over time. In the fall of 2006, a couple of fresh-faced Reason youngsters named Katherine Mangu-Ward and David Weigel asked a slew of libertarian-friendly types to answer the question "Who Deserves the Libertarian Vote?" Flake, then a congressman, gave this for an opening answer:

Well, if they grade on a curve, we're still a better choice. (Laughs) If you believe in limited government, the Democrats don't offer you very much. I've yet to see a Democrat actually bring a proposal to the floor that spends less or is less intrusive. But having said that, there's nothing we've done as Republicans that ought to make libertarians excited about our record.

The Arizonan was brutal in his assessment: "You look at any measure of spending—overall spending, mandatory, discretionary, non-defense discretionary, non-homeland security spending—whichever way you slice it, the record looks pretty bad. When you look at where we're heading, with Medicare Part D, it just means that these programs run out of money a lot sooner than they were going to already. Republicans have adopted the belief or the principle that you spend money to get elected. When I was elected in 2000 it was ingrained in us, and since then it's been even more so: Here's how you get reelected, bring home the bacon."

And asked what a GOP-run Congress could do that would appeal to libertarians, Flake said "At this late date? Adjournment."

It's no accident, as I pointed out in my latest magazine column, that the strongest internal opposition to Donald Trump inside the GOP is coming from Constitutional Conservatives, libertarian-leaners and other true-believer fiscal hawks. Like the Dallas Morning News editorial board, they do not recognize their version of conservatism in the Le Pen-style welfare statism of Donald Trump. In the ongoing battle for the soul of the party, Trump at the moment is clearly winning. But at least they haven't yet given up the fight.

Bonus Reason TV link from the archives: Nick Gillespie interviews Flake about Cuba policy in 2008: