You know who is building a really strong argument against the re-election of Sen. Jeff Flake?
Sen. Jeff Flake.
Our junior senator, a Republican, made a splash over the last week by coming out with a seemingly daring denunciation of Republican behavior under President Donald Trump, in interviews and in excerpts of his new book, called Conscience of A Conservative. His pearl-clutching impressed national pundits like the gullible centrist Republican at the New York Times, David Brooks.
But Flake also laid the foundation for an argument that can be made against him from the right and the left in 2018. The argument will be that Flake is all talk and no action. And it will likely be used by conservative Republicans challenging him in the primary election, then adapted and reused by Democrats challenging him in the general.
Many Republicans scoff at Flake's attempt at molding a conservative image for himself the year before the election. I exchanged Facebook messages Thursday with Lori Hack, a Ted Cruz supporter who became infamous in Republican circles as a delegate to last year's national convention who refused to vote for Trump. The state GOP chair, Robert Graham, replaced her as a delegate.
Hack, of course, has problems with Trump as Flake does. But she actually did something about it and suffered for it by losing her credentials to attend the Republican National Convention. She has a problem with Flake, too — that he talks about himself as a conservative while taking sides too often with Democrats. She pointed to his support for President Obama's normalization of relations with Cuba and his support for comprehensive immigration reform as two examples.
Looking at Flake from the left, as I do, the contradiction between words and deeds jumped out last week. In an excerpt of his book published in Politico, Flake criticized Republican members of Congress for looking the other way during the instability of Trump's presidency.
"To carry on in the spring of 2017 as if what was happening was anything approaching normalcy required a determined suspension of critical faculties. And tremendous powers of denial."
What's hard to fathom is that Flake had written those words before he voted for the so-called "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act. This bill was a precise repudiation of the principles of good government that Flake is arguing for in his book and media tour.
To recap, the skinny repeal was a last-gasp effort to get something done on health care. It was worked out in private by a small group of Republican senators. Up until the few hours before they were to vote on the bill, the senators had not seen the bill. Senators were expected to vote for it with the expectation that it would then not be approved in the House and instead be converted into a new health-care bill in a House-Senate conference committee.
It was the apex of bad government in service of the Trump agenda, and Flake went with it. Amazingly, he did so while he was preparing to launch a critique of just this sort of behavior.
The issue of Flake's talk vs. Flake's action — he built that.