Jeff Flake’s announcement he will not seek re-election to the Senate should be viewed as the makings of a trend of Republican politicians recognizing President Trump controls the party and its supporters, then either making their peace with that or getting out of public life.
Flake’s departure comes on the heels of the announcement from Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, another Republican who has long clashed with Trump. The announcement follows new signs of cooperation from senators, such as John Barrasso of Wyoming, whom former White House adviser Steve Bannon had targeted for a primary, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
But connecting the dots between two arch Trump foes leaving the Senate and Trump’s political strength increasing does not fit the narrative.
In a Washington Post story headlined, “’Dangerous,’ ‘utterly untruthful’: Two retiring GOP senators sound alarm on Trump,” Robert Costa, Philip Rucker and Sean Sullivan, served the narrative.
“A pair of Republican senators sounded an alarm Tuesday about President Trump’s fitness for office and warned that his actions were degrading and dangerous to the country – an extraordinary breach that threatens his legislative agenda and further escalates the civil war tearing apart the Republican Party,” the story began.
There was the “emotional speech” on the Senate floor by Flake, “perhaps the most sweeping indictment of Trump delivered by a Republican to date,” in which he called Trump’s behavior “dangerous to our democracy.”
And how Flake spoke for 18 minutes “with bewilderment and sadness, his voice cracking at times, about what he viewed as the withering of morality and civility in the national dialogue.”
Then there was another dig from Corker, who “reignited a deeply personal feud with the president” by questioning the “president’s stability and competence.”
With those “distress calls,” Flake and Corker “joined a chorus of mainstream political leaders newly emboldened to excoriate Trump” that alluded to the George W. Bush speech that did not mention Trump and might not even have been about him and included serial Trump excoriators Barack Obama and John McCain.
The ex-presidents “warned of peril for the nation under his watch;” the would-be ex-president McCain “thundered about the rise of what he called ‘half-baked spurious nationalism.’”
It’s all part of another mainstream media narrative – that the Republican Party has been “riven by internal turmoil for nearly a decade.” This even though Republicans control the House, the Senate, the White House, 37 governors’ mansions, 68 of the 99 legislative bodies and total control of governments in 37 states – as opposed to five for Democrats.
This decade-long war was made worse by Trump and his anti-establishment forces bringing a “ferocious war” to the “party’s seasoned leaders.”
Then, in a throwaway sentence at the bottom of a paragraph two-thirds of the way through the story, the Post seems almost inadvertently to get at the heart of what is happening.
“Polls show that the overwhelming majority of Republican voters back Trump, and the fact that two of the president’s most vocal critics in the Senate are retiring underscores how dangerous it is for politicians seeking re-election to break with the president and risk the wrath of his loyal supporters.”
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