Politics

White House and Conservative Influencers Hit Back at Jeff Flake

Media, Democrats cheer Never-Trump senator's book excerpts insulting the president

The White House and presidential allies roasted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday for trying to sell a book that sharply criticized President Donald Trump.

“I think that Sen. Flake would serve his constituents much better if he was less focused on writing a book and attacking the president, and passing legislation,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, responding to a question from LifeZette at the daily press briefing.

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Flake wrote an op-ed for Politico on Monday, using excerpts from his book, “Conscience of a Conservative.” The title is an ode to the late Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), who retired from the Senate in 1986, and the famous book he wrote in 1960.

In that op-ed, Flake suggested Trump had eroded the GOP and conservatism, and was enamored with dictators.

“The strange specter of an American president’s seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians created such a cognitive dissonance among my generation of conservatives — who had come of age under existential threat from the Soviet Union —that it was almost impossible to believe,” Flake wrote. “Even as our own government was documenting a con­certed attack against our democratic processes by an enemy foreign power, our own White House was rejecting the authority of its own intelligence agencies, disclaiming their findings as a Democratic ruse and a hoax. Conduct that would have had conservatives up in arms had it been exhibited by our political opponents now had us dumbstruck.”

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Flake also wrote that Republicans had struck a “Faustian bargain” to win the White House while ignoring Trump’s eccentricities.

The attack on Trump shot across the internet Monday night through Tuesday, and Democrats and liberals pundits reveled in the succor that a Republican senator supplied them.

“Jeff Flake delivers the most courageous conservative rebuttal of Trumpism yet,” wrote James Hohmann of The Washington Post.

On Wednesday, The Post published a few more choice quotes from Flake, who faces a tough re-election battle in 2018.

“Far from conservative, the president’s comportment was rather a study in the importance of conflict in reality television — that once you introduce conflict, you cannot deescalate conflict,” Flake writes. “You must continually escalate. That was an important principle of his campaign, and it defined at least his early approach to governing, too.”

Flake writes he is unhappy with that strategy, and used an insulting term to describe Trump.

“We must recognize that government and the process by which we go about electing our leaders ought never be confused for entertainment or graded for its entertainment value or its ratings,” wrote Flake. “We degrade our politics enough as it is without turning our democracy over to carnival barkers and reality television.”

The insulting language used by Flake caused the president’s allies — including a one-time opponent — to fire back at Flake.

“The media needs to know, when reporting on Sen. Flake and his ‘book,’ that the author is a deceiver out for personal and financial gain,” said Brent Bozell III, the president of the Media Research Center and someone who opposed Trump’s nomination in the 2016 Republican primaries. “I also call on my conservative brethren to denounce this impostor, who dishonorably claims to speak for conservatism, in the strongest possible terms.”

Bozell, in a statement sent to media outlets on Wednesday, reminded people that his father, Brent Bozell II, helped Goldwater write “The Conscience of a Conservative” in 1960. Bozell said Flake is misusing the title and trading on Goldwater’s crowning intellectual achievement.

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“‘The Conscience of a Conservative’ is the greatest selling polemic in history, and Sen. Flake is trading on its reputation to shamelessly promote himself and disguise his own conservative deficiencies,” said Bozell. “My father would be appalled to see this fraud as the author of the so-called ‘sequel,’ which it most certainly is not.”

The Flake commentary also brought a rebuke from Laura Ingraham, editor-in-chief of LifeZette, who tweeted on Tuesday night that she would support the best Republican primary opponent to oust Flake in the 2018 elections.

“I look forward to campaigning against Jeff Flake in AZ and for one of his able primary challengers. Stand by for the fireworks!” Ingraham tweeted.

“Let’s liberate Arizona from Jeff Flake in 2018. Flake & McCain are de facto Dems on most key issues. Prediction: Flake switches parties,” Ingraham also tweeted.

On Wednesday afternoon, Ingraham repeated the assertion that Flake would switch parties to LifeZette, pointing to the Arizona senator’s poor polling numbers.

LifeZette reported on July 15 that the most vocal Trump critics within the Senate GOP caucus are the most unpopular back home. Flake is in the top three most unpopular, according to Morning Consult, and his numbers are “underwater,” meaning more people disapprove of him than approve.

The poll found that 45 percent of Arizona voters disapprove of Flake, and only 38 percent approve.

In the past, Trump has expressed his anger at Flake for saying the GOP should dump Trump, after video circulated of crude remarks made by Trump in 2005 — the so-called “Access Hollywood” tapes. Flake signed on as a Never-Trumper early, and that still irks Trump.

Trump reportedly told Republicans after his inauguration that he would find donors to fund a $10 million challenge to Flake in the GOP primary.

Sanders said on Wednesday that she knew of no such plan.

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Gage Skidmore)

meet the author

Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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