In NH, Flake attacks Trump, calls for GOP primary challenge
As originally appearing in WMUR

By: John DiStaso/WMUR

While insisting the odds are long that he’ll take on President Donald Trump in a Republican primary battle in 2020, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake brought a devastating indictment of the president, delivered calmly and deliberately, to the first-in-the-nation primary state Friday.

Flake went a step further, saying that if the Republican Party accepts Trump’s “degradation of the United States and her values,” then “my party does not deserve to lead.”

 “I stand before you today, the rarest of species, the American conservative,” Flake told about 100 Granite State business leaders of both political parties at a traditional Politics and Eggs breakfast at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

“Americanus NeverTrumpus.”

Flake’s appearance was scheduled several weeks before the White House announced that Trump will visit the state on Monday, and it is unclear if the Trump visit was in the planning stages before Flake was booked by the NHIOP.

Trump’s visit to Manchester on Monday is an official trip; he will speak about the opioid crisis.

Still, the president will be in the first-primary state three days after Flake’s appearance and nine days before his 2016 GOP rival, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, arrives to speak at New England College.

The Politics and Eggs event has historically attracted high-profile national political figures, including many people who have considered running – and who have run – for president. And although the number of attendees was small by comparison to similar events held closer to elections, when Flake was finished, he received a standing ovation from a crowd that comprised mostly establishment Republicans, with a smattering of Democrats.

Flake emerged as a leading Republican critic of Trump when he announced in October that he won’t run for a second term representing Arizona and delivered a scathing speech against the president on the Senate floor. Since then, he has been the subject of speculation that he’s preparing to mount a 2020 challenge.

Flake downplayed such talk Friday, reiterating that he has no plans to run. But he kept the door open, saying he would not rule it out.

“I hope that someone does run in the Republican Party, someone to challenge the president. I think that the Republicans want to be reminded what it means to be a traditional, decent Republican and what the party stands for – limited government, economic freedom, free trade, embracing immigration. These are the things that have made the party what it is over the years.

“And I think people are wanting to hear that reminder.”

Flake, though, appeared to be enjoying himself in the first-primary state.

“It’s heavy to be in New Hampshire obviously, to be among people who are just so wired on politics – so informed,” he told reporters after the speech.

Flake’s mention of 2020 came in response to an audience question after he spent nearly 20 minutes blasting Trump and questioning those Republicans who refuse to speak out against, or question, the president.

“As a political movement, we’ve been out of our minds lately,” he said in reference to conservatives. “There are those in my party who continue to marvel at the strategic underpinnings of the daily chaos let loose in the White House. You just have to shake your head.”

“There is no strategic brilliance to marvel at here,” he said. “It is chaos for its own sake, projected onto the world.”

Flake said that when Republicans insist that the president’s words and demeanor should be ignored, and that only his actions matter, “those calls of course ignore the entirety of American history and exhort us to adopt a new norm to accommodate an undignified public behavior just for this one president.

“In the sweep of our history, we have never been urged to not listen to what a president says. Such admonitions are preposterous now.”

He rejected the notion of “accommodating the unacceptable, willfully adding deafness to our already stunning blindness.”

Flake said the Trump era will be remembered for “the president’s war on objective reality and the reflexive impulse to speak falsely.”

“This is a problematic trait in business. It’s a serious problem in personal relationships. But as a defining character trait, absolutely devastating in an American president.”

“There is nothing that will be more vital to expunge from the American record than this frenzied attack on the truth,” he continued. “The irony should not escape us here that someone whose name became known to us as a builder would have such a penchant for destruction.”

“What does it say when we have succumbed to what can only be described as a propaganda-fuel dystopian view of conservatism?” Flake asked. “What it says is that we are as capable as anyone of forgetting our principles and our priorities and putting politics before party.”

Flake also attacked the heart of Trump’s appeal to voters.

“Populist resentments may feel good in the moment, but indulging in them is destructive and self-destructive and offers no solutions to the very real problems that give rise to the resentments in the first place.

“Manipulating populist resentments is the oldest trick in the book, and it is shameful.”

Taking aim at his own party, Flake said, “If my party is going to try to pass off this degradation of the United States and her values from the White House as normal, if we’re going to cloister ourselves in the alternative truth of an erratic leader, if we’re going to refuse to live in the world that everyone else lives in, and reckon with the daily reality that they face — including the very real and understandable anxiety that they feel — then my party does not deserve to lead.”

Path to challenge?

Following his speech, Flake told reporters that a path to victory for a GOP primary challenger to Trump is “certainly tough to see today. But if we continue to have elections like we saw (earlier this week) in Pennsylvania – a plus-20 Trump district lost to a Democrat – and if the midterms turn out to go on a similar path, then things can change rapidly.”

The Republican Party, he said, is “not appealing to the broader electorate. You can drill down on the base. You can have a great rally and have a lot of people excited, but that doesn’t translate into electoral success these days.

“This is still the president’s party,” he said. “Republican primary voters in Arizona and elsewhere are firmly with the president by large majorities. But I do think that will change, and as that changes, we’ll see.”

He predicted that an independent candidate will emerge to run in the 2020 general election to appeal “to a huge swath of voters who say that there’s got to be something else” rather than the extreme views that he said control each political party.

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