NYT Hails Thoughtful Flake’s Tongue-Lashing of Coarse Trump, Goes on Hunt for More GOP Rebels

October 25th, 2017 11:20 AM

The media-friendly spectacle of retiring Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake taking to the Senate floor to denounce Trump unleashed a predictable chorus of reportorial hosannas, including two front-page stories and a full-story excerpt from Flake's speech in Wednesday’s New York Times.

In the lead slot: “In Biting Speech, Flake Denounces ‘Reckless’ Trump -- Adds to Wave of Criticism Within G.O.P. -- Will Skip ’18 Re-election Fight,” by Sheryl Gay Stolberg:

Senator Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who has tangled with President Trump for months, announced on Tuesday that he would not seek re-election in 2018, declaring on the Senate floor that he “will no longer be complicit or silent” in the face of the president’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior.

Mr. Flake made his announcement in an extraordinary 17-minute speech in which he challenged not only the president but also his party’s leadership. He deplored the “casual undermining of our democratic ideals” and “the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency” that he said had become prevalent in American politics in the era of Mr. Trump.

Stolberg posed Flake’s speech as a “direct challenge” to the GOP, contrasting the senator favorably with the President:

Without mentioning Mr. Trump by name, Mr. Flake, 54, took direct aim at the president’s policies, notably his isolationist tendencies, but also his behavior and that of his aides. In his time in Washington, Mr. Flake embodied an old-line conservatism. He avidly pitched smaller government, spending cuts and an end to home-district pork-barrel projects, but also supported free trade, engagement with the world and an openness to immigration.

Those positions stood in marked contrast to Mr. Trump’s inward-looking, anti-immigration nationalism. The senator had already touched on such themes in a book he published in August, “Conscience of a Conservative,” that was highly critical of the president. In his speech, he was at turns somber and passionate.

She at least noted that Flake’s reelection prospects were shaky, which hints that this courageous stance wasn’t quite as courageous as it might be:

Mr. Flake’s private polling had steadily become worse this year as he intensified his criticism of Mr. Trump....One poll showed he had just an 18 percent approval rating among Arizona residents, and a survey that the senator conducted last month led some of his own allies to conclude that he could not win a Republican primary, according to multiple officials directly familiar with the situation in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s speech.


What Mr. Flake’s retirement made clear, though, was something potentially much more significant than an individual senator’s standing in the angry and restless conservative movement. It suggested that under Mr. Trump, the Republican Party has little room for voices that dissent from the president’s crass style of politics and his polarizing agenda.

Also on The Times' front page, congressional reporter Carl Hulse took up a search for more anti-Trump dissenters in his column, “Newfangled Freedom Caucus: Will There Be a Fifth Member?

A former Republican president. A senior Republican senator with a critical illness. A retiring Republican senator. And now an independent-minded Republican senator who faced a difficult, if not impossible, path to re-election.

George W. Bush. John McCain. Bob Corker. And now Jeff Flake of Arizona, who delivered a stinging indictment of President Trump and his own party on the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon as he announced that he would not seek another term. His stirring call to arms came minutes after Mr. Trump concluded a private session with Senate Republicans meant to unite them over their shared agenda.

The four men represent a new type of freedom caucus, one whose members are free to speak their minds about the president and how they see his words and actions diminishing the United States and its standing in the world without fear of the political backlash from hard-right conservatives.

But who -- if anyone -- will follow?

The paper’s usual hostile labeling crept in:

They are equally wary of raising the ire of hard-right activists who already had Mr. Flake in their sights, contributing to his decision. Those activists celebrated Mr. Flake’s decision, claiming a Republican scalp.

Hulse really leaned into Flake as a brave Republican hero (never mind he’s leaving the fight and retiring):

Mr. Flake, who has been a persistent Trump foe since 2016, never mentioned Mr. Trump by name in his remarks. But there was no doubt who he was talking about when he pointed to the “indecency of our discourse” and the “coarseness of our leadership,” and suggested his beloved Republican Party was being complicit in an “alarming and dangerous state of affairs.”


To be sure, there are Republicans in both the Senate and the House who are fully committed to the president and reject the views expressed by Mr. Flake or Mr. Bush, who recently expressed remorse about political “discourse degraded by casual cruelty” -- an obvious reference to the Trump era in Washington.

The paper also reprinted a long excerpt from Flake’s speech on the Senate floor on page 14.

While Flake is dominating the newscasts and front pages, the media’s obsession with Russian “collusion” may be taking a convenient break. A late-breaking bombshell that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign helped fund the notorious unsubstantiated Trump-Russia dossier (suspected of containing anti-Trump falsehoods peddled by Russia) only managed to creep into the paper's local edition back on page 17.