Suddenly, there’s a fight in the conservative movement over … Jeff Flake.
Jonathan Last, digital editor at the Weekly Standard, has taken aim at this humble publication for having the temerity to call balls and strikes with the Conservative Review Liberty Score. Are we really racing to the precipice of a schism over a one-term back-bench senator from Arizona, punching above his status? Are we really going to start infighting in the conservative movement over Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. (53%, F)? Last apparently thinks it’s worth it … all because senators like Susan Collins have lower Liberty Scores than, gasp, Elizabeth Warren. And he has no idea why. Oh no!
What caused Last to go on a deliberate quest to weave a false narrative about the Liberty Score?
Earlier this week, Flake announced his new book, conspicuously entitled “Conscience of a Conservative.” If you think the title sounds familiar, it does. “The Conscience of a Conservative” is the title of a seminal work by Barry Goldwater. Brent Bozell, the president of the Media Research Center, took particular umbrage at the publication of Flake’s new book. This is because it was his father who ghostwrote Goldwater’s book.
Bozell published his displeasure, and this particular part of Bozell’s statement has gotten Flake’s friends in the establishment-protecting media in an uproar.
Since entering the Senate in 2013, Jeff Flake has, time and again, proven he is part of the indulgent hypocrisy in Washington. While he waxes poetically about conservative principles, his Conservative Review Liberty score is an abysmal 53%, also known as: “F”. In 2013, I watched first-hand as Flake refused to sign a letter pledging to defund ObamaCare, among his many betrayals to conservatism. Jeff Flake is neither a conservative nor does he have a conscience.
That was enough to send Last into a tirade against Conservative Review and our editor-in-chief, Mark Levin.
Before stitching together his false narrative, Last never contacted anyone at Conservative Review to ask about the Liberty Score or how it was developed. But that would involve committing an act of actual journalism — you know, picking up the phone or firing off an email — so Last didn’t bother. Why let journalistic standards get in the way of a false narrative? Would it have been so hard to go to our FAQ to see how a Liberty Score is calculated?
After a long, meandering path quoting other scorecards, here Last’s main "thesis":
And it gets even more confusing when you go back to Levin’s Liberty Score. Okay, so Flake’s 53 isn’t great. But how does that stack up against other senators who we suppose are conservative? Well, Pat Toomey is only slightly better, at 59. Ron Johnson is at 56. Deb Fisher and John Boozman—aren’t they pretty conservative?—are tied at 58 a piece.
But wait! There’s more! Louisiana senator John Kennedy was a Democrat until 2007. He gets a perfect 100 on the Liberty Score. And Elizabeth Warren—who is maybe, possibly, not very conservative—and Bernie Sanders—who is an admitted socialist—score higher (18 and 17, respectively) than either Lamar Alexander (16) or Susan Collins (12).
If you want to say that Jeff Flake isn’t conservative enough for your tastes, fine. If you want to say that he shouldn’t criticize a Republican president, that’s fine, too.
But anyone who’s trotting out this ridiculous “Liberty Score” as part of their explanation as to why Flake should be considered an unperson is a joke.
The Liberty Score was developed because it became obvious that politicians were using scorecards to deceive voters. For senators, this meant acting truly conservatively in the year or two preceding re-election or acting conservatively early in their careers, but, once moved up into leadership or any real power, abandoning those conservative roots entirely. Conservative Review scores over a relatively short-term window — six years — which allows for a broad spectrum of votes to be scored while not focusing on either a whole lifetime or just one or two years.
The scorecard was developed precisely to expose the game politicians like Flake play.
Further, this isn’t “Levin’s Liberty Score.” Mark Levin became editor-in-chief of Conservative Review in September 2015. While CR launched in the fall of 2014, the development of the Liberty Score predates that launch by months. Levin was not involved in the development of the Liberty Score and is not involved with the current maintenance of the Liberty Score. Again, a simple phone call or email could have cleared that up for Last.
The Liberty Score takes into account a full spectrum of votes that matter to conservatives. Comparing it, as Last did, to single-issue scorecards is ridiculous. We are not a single-issue advocacy organization.
Anybody can score red-team and blue-team “show votes.” The votes that make up the Liberty Score are those votes that have actual meaning, where true conservatives stand to be counted. As CR has migrated to a new web platform, the vote descriptions for the Liberty Score are temporarily offline and are expected back online by the end of the month. Again, if Last had contacted CR directly, we would have provided him with that information.
Yes, Mr. Last, it is true that Senator Elizabeth Warren has a higher Liberty Score than Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. All three are progressives. The Liberty Score contains votes on things like the budget and omnibus spending bills. Warren routinely votes against these bills, not because they spend too much, but because in her estimation they spend too little. But a vote against them still counts for her in the Liberty Score.
With his remark about Sen. Kennedy, Last also seems to conflate conservatism with a particular party and not an ideology. That’s probably forgivable, as most “conservatives” do.
The other red-team senators mentioned? They are, in fact, not conservative. The conservative movement is not the home of unquestioned self-identity. It is the home of facts. Just because the senators that Last mentioned self-identify as conservative does not make them so.
Last saves his most egregious point for the end: “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: Trumpism corrupts.” Conservative Review doesn’t stand for one politician or the other; it stands for timeless principles. Where those principles align with the rhetoric of a particular politician, it is wise to guide that politician to live up to those principles. If people find common ground with Trump on certain issues, does that make them, to use the pejorative, “Trumpkins?” Is it really conservative to stop believing in a principle just because someone you loathe also believes in it? If that is your position, is it not you who are a “cultist?”
To imply that the Liberty Score is some nefarious tool of the Alt-Right is beyond laughable. Especially when Last himself has chastised Levin for not getting a tingly feeling up his leg over Trump’s lapdog Chris Christie.
With the GOP’s failure to repeal Obamacare, rein in our $20 trillion-plus national debt, defund Planned Parenthood, or advance a conservative agenda in any way in the last six years, it simply doesn’t take much time or effort to understand why the scores of so many Republicans are so low. The performance of the GOP over the last six years has been an unqualified F ... and scores like Jeff Flake’s reflect that.
I’ll end with my first point. Are we really going to make Jeff Flake the hill that determines the future of the conservative movement, instead of the consistent, unflinching principles that bind us? Unfortunately, it seems so.
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Robert Eno is the director of research for Conservative Review. He is a conservative from deep blue Massachusetts but now lives in Greenville, SC. If you see something you’d like him to cover, tweet him @robeno.