Jeff Flake blasts Trump, stokes presidential-campaign speculation with N.H. speech As originally appearing in AZ Central
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Jeff Flake delivered a blistering attack on President Donald Trump and the general degradation of politics in a Friday speech to business leaders in the state that hosts the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
Flake introduced himself to the influential Granite State as a conservative in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater who now finds himself maligned on the right as a Republican-In-Name-Only because he isn’t in lockstep with Trump.
“I stand before you, the rarest of species: the American Conservative,” Flake said in well-received remarks on the campus of Saint Anselm College. “’Americanus NeverTrumpus. Subgenus: RINO.’ There’s a scurrilous rumor afoot that we’re not only rare but endangered. I don’t believe it.”
Flake, who wrote a book last year titled “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle,” recalled that he “killed earmarks” while a member of the House of Representatives, scored a perfect 100 with the fiscally conservative group the Club for Growth and has a 94 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union.
“And I’m the RINO,” Flake deadpanned. “It’s like ‘The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.’ What have they done with all the conservatives?”
The Republican disagreement over what “conservative” means “could just be a sign that we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere,” Flake said.
But Flake also emphasized that, even as a lifelong Republican who is greatly concerned about the health of his party, “my country is more important.”
Flake told the New Hampshire crowd that it is “well past time” to put country before party.
“We’ve tried the other way for too long,” Flake said. “We’ve done our worst. Now it’s time for us to do our best.”
Presidential run for Sen. Flake?
Flake’s speech Friday at a “Politics & Eggs” event at Saint Anselm College has heightened speculation about his political future. He is not seeking re-election to the Senate.
The 23-year-old “Politics & Eggs” series, hosted by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in and the New England Council, aims “to provide New Hampshire and New England business leaders with a chance to meet with major party presidential candidates” and considers itself “a must-stop on the presidential campaign trail.”
Flake, 55, has repeatedly said a presidential campaign is not in his plans but also that he has not ruled one out. He more recently has explicitly called for a traditionally conservative Republican to challenge Trump in the 2020 Republican primaries “just to remind Republicans what Republicans stand for,” such as limited government and economic freedom, free trade and immigration.
Bluntly asked by a member of the audience if he will run for president, Flake jokingly responded, “Next question” before repeating his standard line about not ruling it out.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., blasts President Donald Trump from the Senate floor on Feb. 6, 2018, for joking that Democrats who didn’t stand and applaud during his State of the Union speech were “treasonous.” U.S. Senate
“I hope that someone does run in the Republican primary, somebody to challenge the president,” he said. “I think that the Republicans want to be reminded what it means to be a traditional, decent Republican, and what the party stands for.”
After his remarks, which received a standing ovation, Flake was asked if a Republican would be better off challenging Trump as an independent or third-party candidate rather than trying to go through the GOP primaries.
“I don’t know. Time will tell,” Flake said. “I hope that somebody runs, like I said, as a Republican, because I think Republicans are yearning to hear a traditional conservative message. But in the end, people may determine, somebody I’m sure, we’ll have an independent challenger as well.”
Flake takes on President Trump
Flake has repeatedly taken Trump to task over the president’s sustained attacks on the media and on Democrats.
Flake’s over-arching theme has been that Trump’s behavior cannot be normalized.
“We must turn away from this brand of poisonous politics, the kind of poison that has the president slinging insults like a bad comic at a cheap roast,” Flake said Friday. “Yes, the pendulum swings, thank goodness, and the people themselves will show us the way out of here. If this sounds like a call to new politics, it is. But it is just as much a call to the old politics, the best traditions of America, of true leadership and vision, of Lincoln’s malice toward none and charity for all.
“… Let’s take the high ground again.”
After the speech, Trevor Van Niel, a political-science student at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, gave Flake high marks for putting the country’s interest ahead of his party’s.
“It was certainly great to hear that there is still civility left in our national leadership,” he said. “It was very interesting to hear how he articulated his side, and the party’s positions on things, as opposed to what we hear coming from the executive branch. It’s just reassuring because it is so easy in these times to lose your head to think, ‘What’s going on with this country?’”
Flake’s remarks in New Hampshire followed a Thursday speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he again strongly condemned Trump.
“It is nonetheless our obligation to assess the condition of our politics, to mitigate and repair the damage because, as we are discovering and as we will discover for years to come, there is no damage like the damage a president can do,” Flake said in his Thursday appearance.
Flake’s speech Friday in New Hampshire was in places word-for-word what he said at the National Press Club.
Flake already has paid a big price for standing up to Trump: In October, he abandoned his 2018 re-election campaign after concluding he was so out-of-step with the pro-Trump voters that dominate Arizona’s Republican primary that winning renomination for the Senate would be difficult if not impossible.
Still, Flake may find a receptive audience in New Hampshire, a state known for its libertarian leanings that allows independent voters to participate in its Republican primary.
Unfavorable numbers for Trump
A poll conducted last month by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics found that 61.5 percent of New Hampshire voters have an unfavorable view of Trump, who returns to New Hampshire on Monday for the first time since 2016 as part of a trip that will focus on the state’s opioid crisis and could include a demand for the death penalty for drug traffickers.
Trump was viewed favorably by 35.8 percent while 2.7 percent said they had no opinion.
The telephone poll, conducted Feb. 21-23, had a margin of sampling error of 4.7 percentage points.
More specifically, the poll of 428 registered New Hampshire voters found that 97.7 percent of Democrats and 61.4 percent of independents have an unfavorable view of Trump.
But only 23.2 percent of New Hampshire Republicans hold a negative view of him.
The “Politics & Eggs” series at Saint Anselm College has hosted Trump, 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and 2016 also-rans such as GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida and Clinton’s Democratic rival Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Flake’s appearance Friday was the first “Politics & Eggs” event of 2018.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, was a “Politics & Eggs” speaker on May 10, 1999, in advance of his 2000 presidential bid in which he won the New Hampshire primary but lost the GOP nomination to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. McCain would win the New Hampshire primary again in 2008 on his way to clinching that year’s nomination.
McCain also helped give Flake his first taste of the New Hampshire presidential campaign trail when he included Flake on a four-day November 2007 swing through the Granite State. Flake, a fellow crusader against congressional earmarks, helped sell McCain’s anti-pork record to the state’s voters.
“It’s a slice of Americana,” Flake, who was then serving in the House, told The Arizona Republic at the time.
On Friday, Flake called his campaigning with McCain in New Hampshire “some of my best political memories.”
McCain, 81, is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. His name came up again when Flake was asked which Democrats and Republicans he will miss when he leaves the Senate.
“On the Republican side, one that I will really miss is John McCain,” Flake said. “I can’t imagine a Washington without John McCain. I sat with him for a couple of hours just a few weeks ago, reminisced about our time campaigning here and working in the Senate.”
Nowicki is The Republic’s national political reporter.
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