Election 2020

Flake 'Not Sure' When He Went from Being Considered Tea Party to RINO

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said this morning that he’s not sure how he went from being a Tea Party Republican to being derided by those on the right who evolved out of that movement.

“I’m not sure when that transformation happened, but all of a sudden, yes, I’m a RINO, Republican in name only, and so I — politics have changed quite a bit,” Flake told MSNBC. “That’s all I can say.”

Flake announced Tuesday he would not seek a second term in the Senate.

“It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party — the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment we have given in or given up on those core principles in favor of the more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy,” Flake said in a floor speech.

“There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal — but mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people,” he added. “In the case of the Republican party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.”

President Trump today fired backed at Flake calling Trump’s behavior “dangerous to a democracy.”

“Look, he was against me from before he ever knew me. He wrote a book about me before I ever met him, before I ever heard his name. His poll numbers in Arizona are so low that he couldn’t win, and I don’t blame him for leaving. I think he did the right thing for himself,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “But if you know, long before he ever knew me, during the campaign, even before the campaign — I mean, he came out with this horrible book, and I said, who is this guy?”

Flake and Trump first crossed swords during the campaign. In a July 2016 closed-door meeting with senators on Capitol Hill, Flake introduced himself as “the other senator from Arizona — the one who didn’t get captured — and I want to talk to you about statements like that.” Trump reportedly threatened to start publicly attacking the senator, while Flake urged Trump to stop attacking Mexicans. When Trump declared that Flake would lose November 2016, the senator noted that he was not up for re-election.

Flake released his book, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle, this August.

“I didn’t get off on the right foot, I guess, with the administration back in the campaign. But that’s completely different from policy. The problem is, it seems now to be conservative you have to be angry. And it’s a different type of politics than we’re used to,” Flake said today.

The senator said there is “some fatigue” on Capitol Hill over having to respond to Trump’s latest Twitter wars and the like.

“But on the whole, we can’t continue to just remain silent when the president keeps going on like this. There is a fatigue about it. There really is,” he said. “There’s just so much and you can’t respond to everything. But, on the important things, we need to stand up.”