Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s new book seems to be rubbing a number of Trump supporters the wrong way. Flake, it turns out, is a real and principled conservative, and that seems to make some of the Trumpistas who have tried to steal that mantle apoplectic. Though I’ll never see eye-to-eye with Flake, I am beginning to respect him.
As I was reading his comments in an article by James Hohmann for The Washington Post today, I kept yelling, “You go, girl!” Finally someone on the right (and outside of the punditocracy) beginning to refuse to go along with the process of turning the Republican Party into a travesty of hypocrisy and lies.
Flake traces today’s problems to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: “Any honest accounting of how we got to this new day has to reckon with Newt, whose talent for politics exceeded his interest in governing.” It’s refreshing to hear this said by someone not on the left, where we’ve been pointing this out since, oh, 1994. Personally, I find Gingrich simply a more effective manifestation of the attitudes of Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy and his later-day acolyte (and Gingrich/Trump enabler) David Horowitz (see my articles for The Public Eye: “The Triumph of the Lies: How Honesty and Morality Died in Right-Wing Politics,” which came out online last week, and “The Art of the Slur: From Joe McCarthy to David Horowitz,” which appeared eleven years ago). Whatever my quibbles about the past, I agree completely with Flakes analysis of the situation today.
Our political differences do not matter in this. Agreeing with him makes me no more a conservative than agreeing with me would make him a liberal. In one of the nicest comments about him from the right since the appearance of his book, Brent Bozell, whose father worked with William F. Buckley, calls (according to Hohmann) on his own “conservative brethren to denounce this impostor, who dishonorably claims to speak for conservatism, in the strongest possible terms.” Believe me, as a dyed-in-the-wool leftist, Flake is not one of us. He is every bit the Goldwater conservative he claims to be–but that doesn’t make him always wrong.
What he is pointing out is how wrong the right has become, not how wrong his ideals are. He 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?”
Flake states that, ““And when you suddenly decide that you don’t believe what had recently been your most deeply held beliefs, then you open yourself to believing anything.” This is what has been happening, more and more, to Republicans–and why they turn, more and more, to the lie. As he says, “We were party to a very big lie.” That this lie has been coming for decades should have been obvious to everyone. Better late, however, than never.