Senator Jeff Flake wants you to know that he’s not like Donald Trump, the most visible member of his party governing today.
That’s one broad message from his new book, Conscience of a Conservative, the title of which was lifted from the famous manifesto of Barry Goldwater, another Republican senator from Arizona. Flake drafted the book, an excoriation of the Republican Party’s enabling Trump, in secret, telling NPR that while people in politics would have cautioned him not to make his already uphill road to re-election any more difficult with the book, “I thought it was important to stand up when I had something to risk.”
It’s an interesting (and commercially advantageous) time for Flake to rediscover his supposed conscience.
The Arizona senator is just coming off a string of “yes” votes on every measure his party put forward to repeal, repeal and replace, and partially repeal the Affordable Care Act. While Flake voted to approve the final last-ditch legislative effort to appease President Trump, his colleague Sen. John McCain declared, after sinking the measure, “We are not the president’s subordinates.”
In an excerpt of the book published by Politico, Flake rails against the “Faustian bargain” conservatives struck by embracing Trump, one he admits “was not worth it.”
“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. “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?”
It’s a good question for Republicans to grapple with, and, given Flake’s voting record, one he should spend substantially more time mulling over: He’s voted with Trump 95% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight, making him the Senate’s eighth most Trump-friendly member.
But what Flake seems to long for most of all, like so many conservatives who fancy themselves people of principle, is a return to the good old days, when congressmen and presidents behaved according to a set of norms and rules for decorum even as they worked together to steadily make life worse for the poor, people of color, and every other group of disadvantaged Americans.
“We must return to the conservatism of our best traditions as if for the first time,” he loftily writes. Elsewhere in the book, he calls for a return to some notion of “conservative values” and “regular order” in Congress.
If Flake’s serious about pulling back the party he loves from the brink of destruction, he could start with two of the Senate committees he sits on, Foreign Relations and Judiciary, where’s he’s failed to take any meaningful stand against Trump. Or he could contemplate actually voting against any substantive piece of legislation backed by Trump, instead of selling a fake version of rebelliousness for $27 a pop.
Otherwise, Conscience of a Conservative is just another flash-in-the-pan political book, full of enough sound and fury to captivate Washington for a moment but signifying nothing.