The GOP duplicity game is being played expertly by Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Running for re-election in 2018, Senator Flake has released a new book positioning himself as a conservative in the mold of former Arizona senator Barry Goldwater and chastising his fellow Republicans for betraying conservative principles during the presidency of Donald Trump.
"Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign," Flake writes. "And when you suddenly decide that you don't believe what had recently been your most deeply held beliefs, then you open yourself to believing anything — or maybe nothing at all."
Flake’s book, “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle,” borrows its title from Goldwater’s seminal work, “The Conscience of a Conservative.” His thesis is that conservatives have permitted the forces of populism, protectionism, and demagoguery — personified in Donald Trump — to take over Republican party politics for the short-term goal of winning elections.
“But where does such capitulation take us?” Flake asks. “If by 2017 the conservative bargain was to go along for the very bumpy ride because with congressional hegemony and the White House we had the numbers to achieve some long-held policy goals—even as we put at risk our institutions and our values—then it was a very real question whether any such policy victories wouldn’t be Pyrrhic ones. If this was our Faustian bargain, then it was not worth it.”
By any conservative standard, Senator Flake makes several valid criticisms of President Trump. The president’s support for protectionist trade policies is harmful, his unwillingness to reform entitlement programs unacceptable, his surrender on the budget a betrayal. But holding Senator Flake to that same conservative standard reveals how Flake himself has repeatedly betrayed the conservative principles he purports to defend. The irony of Jeff Flake, who in 2013 called Obamacare “the law of the land,” lamenting Republican capitulation cannot be overstated.
Let us dispel this fiction that Jeff Flake has a strong conservative conscience. His record in the Senate testifies against him. Flake’s first high-profile betrayal came in 2013, when he refused to join the fight to defund Obamacare. As conservatives warned at the time, failing to defund Obamacare in 2013 would make full repeal nearly impossible. Today we know conservative were right and Flake was wrong, but that wouldn’t be the only time Flake sold out conservatives.
During the Obama years, Flake stacked up several liberal votes on his record, including supporting the Gang of Eight amnesty bill; funding Obama’s executive amnesty; voting to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general; raising the debt ceiling without spending cuts; advancing gun control legislation; and funding Planned Parenthood and the Iran nuclear deal.
Flake’s record demonstrates how time and time again he has sold out conservatives on key issues. He votes with Republican leadership on consensus D.C. issues like amnesty, yet he lectures the grassroots on the importance of standing up to the party and to Trump when he betrays conservative principles.
“There was a time when the leadership of the Congress from both parties felt an institutional loyalty that would frequently create bonds across party lines in defense of congressional prerogatives in a unified front against the White House, regardless of the president’s party,” Flake writes. “We do not have to go very far back to identify these exemplars—the Bob Doles and Howard Bakers and Richard Lugars of the Senate. Vigorous partisans, yes, but even more important, principled constitutional conservatives whose primary interest was in governing and making America truly great.”
Even the “conservatives” Senator Flake admires reveal his disposition toward the sort of Republican who will pay lip service to conservative principle while acting like a liberal.
Richard Lugar? “Obama’s favorite Republican?” A principled constitutional conservative? Bob Dole — who trashed conservatives in the 2016 Republican presidential primary — a principled constitutional conservative? Flake’s idols are RINOs.
Is this the profile of a senator who could claim to inherit Barry Goldwater’s legacy? Brent Bozell, whose father ghostwrote Goldwater’s book, thinks not. In a statement released Tuesday, he forcefully denounced Senator Flake for his disingenuous abuse of Goldwater’s conservative legacy.
“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,” Bozell stated.
“The media need to know, when reporting on Senator Flake and his ‘book,’ that the author is a deceiver out for personal and financial gain. I also call on my conservative brethren to denounce this impostor, who dishonorably claims to speak for conservatism, in the strongest possible terms.”
Like so many others, Senator Flake is playing a game with voters. Campaigning as a conservative to win elections, governing as a liberal in off years, Senator Flake returns to the campaign trail in 2018 with a new book, purporting to save conservatism by returning to principles he has long since betrayed.
“If ultimately our principles were so malleable as to no longer be principles, then what was the point of political victories in the first place?” Flake asks. The Senator is absolutely right to ask this question of President Trump. But he should ask it of himself as well.
Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
Obamacare is the Death Star, and it needs to be destroyed.
Conservativism, which is good and decent, ought defend that which is good and decent.