From 2001 – 2012 Jeff Flake was a conservative hero. He exposed earmarks and pork barrel spending; he fought with House leadership; he was strong and smart and had a bright future.
Then he went to the US Senate, and apparently lost his spine…and his brains…and his political judgment…and his common sense. What happened?
Jeff Flake the Senator bears no resemblance to Jeff Flake the rabble-rousing, principled House member. He became a reliable vote for the Leadership, even when he knew better. He developed an obsession with Cuba, something no one in Arizona could quite understand. And yet somehow all this was okay – at least he was a Republican and the Senate leadership was somewhat conservative and the world made sense.
And then Donald Trump came along. And Jeff Flake became unhinged in a way that has even his colleagues puzzled.
Flake couldn’t resist jabbing Trump. The occasional jab became an obsession, so much so that Flake wrote an entire book, published last summer, that can only be described as an anti-Trump manifesto. Amazingly, no one in Flake’s world was aware he was even writing the book. The book came as a surprise to his inner circle of political advisers, Senate colleagues, supporters in Arizona, and everyone else.
He must have thought the book would be popular and re-establish his conservative credentials. Instead it did exactly the opposite. His poll numbers in Arizona tanked so badly that he had to withdraw from a primary against a third-rate opponent (Kelli Ward).
It’s gotten worse since then, with the Brett Kavanaugh saga being the most recent chapter in the decline of Jeff Flake. He clearly didn’t want to vote for Kavanaugh. He was the driving factor behind the week-long delay and FBI investigation. A front-page picture in the AZ Republic showed a dazed and stricken Flake surrounded by Senate colleagues and staff. He was celebrated (temporarily) by the media and was on-stage with alleged centrist Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware. He visited New Hampshire for reasons no one can figure out. And then he returned to DC, reluctantly voted Yes on Kavanaugh, and was savaged by the national and local media.
Flake the Principled Conservative became “Flake the Snake” on Saturday Night Live. Before the Kavanaugh vote he was the least popular politician in Arizona. His 29-47 fav/unfav rating had him with mere 20% approval from Republicans. He was buttressed by 44% favorability from Democrats, but surely that has cratered since he voted “Yes” for confirmation. What would his favorable statewide numbers be now? In the teens?
Flake will be gone from the Senate in three months. Given his increasingly incomprehensible behavior and his plunging popularity, that date can’t come soon enough. He remains a decent man, even if he is a completely failed politician. Maybe coming back to Arizona for an extended period will do him some good.