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Jeff Flake’s Cosmetic Trump “Resistance”

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Jeff Flake’s Cosmetic Trump “Resistance”


Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Right-wingers attempting to brand themselves as anti-Trump is a grift we’ve seen dozens of times before––typically from media types such as Glenn Beck, David Frum, Max Boot, and Joe Scarborough. But rarely does one see it from a sitting senator such as Jeff Flake, the Arizona lawmaker attempting to take the mantle of his mentor, John McCain, as liberal and centrist media outlets’ favorite not-entirely-evil-Republican.

With the release of his new book, Conscience of a Conservative, Flake has managed in the past week to get puff pieces in the New York TimesPolitico(which he wrote himself), NPRMother JonesAPFox NewsUSA TodayCBS’s Face the Nation, the New York Times (again), and a long, sycophantic profile in the Atlantic.

It’s understandable why Democrats and their anti-Trump allies would welcome this—after all, the anti-Trump resistance needs all the help it can get. There’s only one problem: thus far, Flake’s opposition to Trump has been entirely rhetorical in nature. Great in interviews, good with op-eds, pleasant when entertaining Atlantic profilers––but when it comes to substance, opposing the actions by the administration in the Senate or any of his cabinet or Supreme Court or cabinet picks, he’s a reliable Republican apparatchik.

As Vox’s Matt Yglesias noted, “has Jeff Flake done anything to use his powers as a United States senator to check Trump in any way?”

A cursory scan gives the answer no. Flake has, according to FiveThirtyEight voted in line with Trump 95.5 percent of the time, making him the eighth most reliable senator for the White House. Most noticeable among these pro-Trump votes was last week’s disastrous Obamacare repeal that Flake supported at every turn.

In addition, Senator Flake supported every one of Trump’s cabinet nominations, his unilateral bombing of Syria in April, and his Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. These are some of the rare media “wins” for Trump and at each turn Flake was there to lobby in favor of them.

This isn’t, to be clear, about “purity politics.” No one is suggesting Flake has to be a card-carrying MoveOn organizer to be worthy of joining the forces against Trump. The issue is, has he done anything to actually undermine Trump in his powerful capacity as a United States senator? If the answer is no, one is compelled to ask, how big of a danger does Flake actually consider Trump? And, to the extent he does consider him a danger, does he think him less of one relative to the net utility of bombing Syria, slashing taxes for the rich, gutting the Affordable Care Act, and packing the Supreme Court with actuarially desirable far-right justices? The answer is clear since he continues, time and again, to back these policies, and in doing so, helping rack up the occasional but potent victory for Trump.

Like his media boosters, Flake’s primary moral criteria appears to be one of tone. The book is subtitled “a rejection of destructive politics,” in reference to Trump’s prickish demeanor, less so about the specifics of his policies. While it’s true Flake has objections to Trump’s approach to trade, immigration extremism and anti-NATO statements, he has little say on his recent trans military ban, his ratcheting up war in Syria and Iraq, or his pulling out of the Paris climate accords. Probably because Flake himself has terrible records on LGBT issueshasn’t met a war he didn’t like, and offered qualified approval for leaving the Paris Agreement.

As with Flake’s colleague John McCain, the scam is ultimately one of lowered expectations. Because Trump has sunk discourse and the broader GOP to Mariana Trench depths, anyone who vaguely gestures toward baseline decency is heralded as a brave truth-teller––an angle Flake exploits to help polish his image and garner goodwill from an otherwise indifferent or hostile media.

But this isn’t a scam the press has to indulge without getting anything of substance in return. If Flake is serious about opposing the administration’s agenda and making Trump’s ability to inflict pain on the country more difficult, he should ante up something, anything at all, beyond words. He can start by figuring out how to use his position of influence in the Senate to make life just a bit harder for Trump. Then maybe his status as a courageous anti-Trump voice will be more than a book tour sales pitch.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.



  1. dbtheonly August 3, 2017

    There’s the key point.

    Trump is the incompetent figurehead of the Republican Party. I can not judge whether Trump knows that some of his statements are blatantly false or whether he believes that those statements are true. Neither way is good.

    But Trump is not the problem. The entire Republican agenda, from relaxing pollution controls, to corporate tax-exempt funding of political campaigns, to destruction of any employee job security, is dangerous to us all. Trump’s antics are actually a benefit as they hinder the achievement of those goals. Does anyone really think that President Pence wouldn’t have gotten one of those three votes?

    No, Flake, is trying to polish his “cred” while advancing the policies that are so harmful.

    1. latebloomingrandma August 4, 2017

      I truly believe that Trump doesn’t know the difference between truth and a lie. Neither does he know the difference between right and wrong. This has been his pattern since childhood . His brain is wired differently. Sad. Dangerous. Unfixable.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker August 4, 2017

        To Trump, truth is a “convenience” and a “lie” is a “tool.”

        1. dpaano August 4, 2017

          Truth to Trump is “false news!” Anything that comes out of HIS mouth, however, should be considered gospel (NOT)!!!

          1. Eleanore Whitaker August 5, 2017

            The attempt now to force journalists to hand over their “sources” is pure Putin. What the “ignernt” Americans don’t want to admit is that their backward attitudes are more than visible by what they believe Trump will do for them. They want a future for their kids based on coal mining. Good. Let them heat and cool their homes with coal so their kids can die of black lung diseases like their daddies do.

            The point here is that some of what is coming out of the White House is beginning to look suspiciously like someone on the Trump advisory staff is doing the work of Putin. This is the same kind of back room agenda the Koch boys used with the Tea Party. However, Putin’s technique is far more refined.

            In corporate executive levels cutting thoats in power struggles is a refined art. This is why one by one, Bannon and Conway are removing anyone who gets in their way. Kelly will be next. Count on it.

    2. rhetoric_phobic August 4, 2017

      Why tell the truth when lying has always worked. Ask trump’s friend Jim. 🙂

  2. rhetoric_phobic August 4, 2017

    Flake is a poser. Forget his words, follow how he votes. He didn’t even have the guts to follow McCain’s lead. We didn’t need Flake’s vote because the two ladies stepped up but it would have been a good time for him to practice actually having a spine.

  3. Eleanore Whitaker August 4, 2017

    You know what I find so pathetic? No matter how the Republican Party tries desperately to distance itself from this entire mess…As Senator Schumer said about healthcare, “The Republicans own it.”

    The Republicans own the Trump mess. No matter how they try, it began with the Republican National Committee allowing Trump to run from their party and then, the worst? Not even bothering to vet him properly.

    Without the vetting that must always come before allowing a candidate to represent your party, the party might be better off playing roulette to see which mobster, thug, grifter, world class liar and treasonous bastard will run.

    There just isn’t a way now for the Republican Party to haul out their “We didn’t know card.” Wrong. They knew. Unless of course, they are admitting they were too stupid to vet Trump thoroughly before he handed them that $100 million he claimed he paid the RNC and Priebus in that 2nd debate.

    “I donated MY campaign $100 million. How much did YOU donate to YOURS?”

    Now of course we will discover just WHERE that money came from in 2016 so soon after filing half a dozen corporate bankruptcies 3 years earlier. Sure does smell doesn’t it?

  4. dpaano August 4, 2017

    That’s all it is….a book tour sales pitch…..I’m waiting to see how many Republicans who are up for re-election in 2018 try to weasel their way out of “supporting” Trump when they all, voted for all of his ridiculous bills! This should be interesting to watch, and the epitome of the biggest scam in history (after the 2016 presidential election, that is)!

  5. Aaron_of_Portsmouth August 28, 2017

    Yes, let us not get elated over a member or two in the GOP saying something harsh about Trump. It’s all a facade intended to look good for PR purposes, since the primary goal of politicians is to insure their re-election, even before they arrive in DC.

    The American political apparatus is far too generous by rewarding politicians with huge salaries and benefits to insure the most comfortable retirement plan any human on the planet could dream of. Censuring then is transitory, for the moment, not intended to be enforced for fear of jeopardizing the goldmine America grants to any bumpkin who comes along and wins an election.

    Remember when Ryan accused Trump of a racist comment by saying it was “Textbook Racism”? It turned out to be a rhetorical knee-jerk response by Paul for cosmetic purposes. Paul never had any intention on putting the heat on Donald—it was said to make Paul look like he was genuinely concerned.

    Turns out he wasn’t concerned, and still isn’t concerned about Donald’s behavior, because Paul values the job more than being a decent moral, outstanding Christian who would have hectored and badgered Trump as any good Christian should have, and followed up with a call to publicly rebuke Trump in no uncertain terms and with conviction. The “Nice-boy” rules of Congress prevents them from rebuking bad behavior of those of the same political Party, but it’s OK to do so of members of the other Party. What a lovely disingenuous set-up.

    But this preferred and proper follow-up to Trump’s maniacal behavior will always go unchallenged by the GOP. That’s the degree of cowardice, greed, and lack of remorse which is ingrained in the psyches of so many on the Right who would become politicians.

    Not that the Left are saints—we just see more cowardice and greed openly and shamelessly displayed by the Right Wing for now. And this because Christian morals are now secondary or non-existent in relation to political aspirations.


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