Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona believes President Donald Trump should be challenged by a Republican who voices Flake’s traditionally conservative views.
PHOENIX — Days before he travels to the state that holds the first presidential primary, Sen. Jeff Flake on Sunday said President Trump needs a 2020 challenge from someone who holds Flake’s traditional conservative views.
“I mean, it would be a tough go in a Republican primary,” Flake, a one-term Arizona Republican, told NBC’s Meet the Press With Chuck Todd . “The Republican Party is the Trump party right now. But that’s not to say it will stay that way.”
Flake abandoned his re-election bid last year because, he said, he did not want to compromise his integrity to try to win over pro-Trump voters in Arizona’s Aug. 28 Republican primary.
But on Friday, he will be in Manchester, N. H., to deliver remarks on “Country Over Party” at a “Politics and Eggs” event. The series, put on by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and New England Council, describes its mission as providing “New Hampshire and New England business leaders with a chance to meet with major party presidential candidates” and calls itself “a ‘must-stop’ on the presidential campaign trail.”
Flake has not said he’s running for president in 2020 but has refused to rule out such a move, even while acknowledging he probably couldn’t get renominated for Senate in his home state. He also has said he thought Trump should be challenged, but the twist Sunday was that he agreed with Todd’s question that such a challenger should be somebody “who espouses your (Flake’s) views.”
A Flake challenge to Trump in the presidential primaries would face long, if not impossible, odds.
On Sunday, Flake conceded that his views are out of sync with the GOP.
“As a Republican who believes in free trade, limited government, economic freedom, I couldn’t be re-elected in my party right now,” Flake said. “Somebody who voices, you know, reservations about where the president is or criticizes his behavior like last night, it’s tough to be reelected in a Republican primary.”
Flake has been a relentless GOP critic of Trump.Last year, he wrote a book rebuking his own Republican Party for embracing Trump-style nationalism and protectionism at the expense of traditional conservative values such as free trade. This year, he has given Senate floor speeches denouncing the president’s attacks on the media and antagonism toward Democrats.
And last week, Flake said he would move quickly to introduce legislation to nullify Trump’s new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
On Meet the Press, Flake said “tariffs are awful” for the economy and “tariffs married to uncertainty is probably even worse,” referring to Trump’s suggestion that he may allow certain exemptions and the possibility that the president may impose other tariffs.
He said it’s tough to make the case that the Republican Party is still the party of free trade.
“I think we’re going completely the wrong direction,” Flake said. “We need to aggressively negotiate both bilateral and multilateral trade deals, because we’re going to be left behind. And, you know, when we only represent just over 20% of the world’s economy, only 5% of the world’s population, if we don’t trade, we don’t grow. And so we need to trade.”
Flake also reiterated his belief that Trump’s behavior as president, such as continuing to verbally abuse the media, “does real damage long term to the political culture” and should not be normalized.
Todd asked him if other Republicans should join him in condemning Trump’s behavior.
“Well, I can tell you when every question you get in the hallway going to vote is about this, it just becomes tiresome,” Flake said. “And I don’t blame my colleagues for just saying, ‘Hey, you know, I’m just not going to comment anymore.’ But I think it’s our responsibility, at least at some point, when he goes so far, to stand up and say, ‘This is not normal. We should not normalize this behavior.'”
Dan Nowicki is national political reporter for The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Follow him on Twitter: @dannowicki