Senator Jeff Flake is worried.
The Republican from Arizona is worried abut the "nationalism," "populism," and "xenophobia" that he thinks have compromised conservatism. He's worried about the "instability" of the president of the United States. And he thinks that because of conspiracy theories and fake news, the political system faces a "crisis with the truth itself."
Flake argues these points in his new book Conscience of a Conservative, which is making waves in the political world for its lengthy, harsh critique of President Trump — and of the direction of the Republican Party more broadly.
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Though it was common for elected Republicans — Flake among them — to loudly criticize Trump during the campaign, there's been far less of this during his presidency. Some in the GOP clearly think their party's political fortunes are yoked to Trump. Some have tempered their critiques in hopes of achieving policy accomplishments. Some just fear earning the ire of their Trump-loving base voters.
If Flake has any of these misgivings, he's overcome them. Instead, he's deliberately sought to define himself as a Republican Trump critic in a very high-profile way. Though it would have been easier for him to fall in line with his party, he writes, "In good conscience, I could not. The stakes, for the future of conservatism and for the future of our country, are simply too high."
Trump supporters have reacted with fury. "Let's liberate Arizona from Jeff Flake in 2018," talk radio hostPolitico's Alex Isenstadt.
Trump critics, meanwhile, have reacted with eye-rolling and skepticism of Flake. They point out that the Arizona senator has voted overwhelmingly for Trump's appointees and his agenda, and ask what his harsh words are really worth if he won't back them up with action. No one is pleased, and Flake's approval rating has plummeted.
Overall, while Flake's critiques have had little impact on national policy so far, his idiosyncrasies could still have national implications. In part, that's because he's one of just a few vulnerable Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2018 as the GOP tries to hold on to a narrow majority in the chamber.
But more broadly, and regardless of whether you're impressed by his actions or not, Flake's political fate matters because it could determine whether Republican Trump critics have a future in the GOP — or whether going against the president increasingly seems a sure ticket to political defeat.