It’s no longer the Republican Party; it’s a cult of personality dedicated to Donald Trump

Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, is facing grave political peril in next year’s election. (Credit:
Al Drago for The New York Times)

Mr. Flake, the even-tempered Republican senator from Arizona, has for months offered stinging critiques of President Trump’s character, demeanor and truthfulness — the same message forcefully echoed a week ago by Mr. Corker, a Republican colleague from Tennessee, who warned that Mr. Trump’s reckless behavior could lead to “World War III.” But there is one crucial difference between the two: Mr. Flake, unlike Mr. Corker, is running for re-election. And now he finds himself in grave political peril…. His fate is an object lesson for other Republicans who might consider voicing dire thoughts about the president’s fitness: Cross Mr. Trump, and your political career could well be over.

For the record, no one should be thinking I’m a fan of Jeff Flake- far from it. I find his position on many instances to be deeply offensive and lacking in compassion. That said, he’s one of the few Republicans in Congress who actually seem to stand for something. Most of his colleagues are political opportunists whose only real allegiance lies with their own political prospects.

That he actually stands for something solid is why I have a grudging respect for him, particularly in this instance. One of the few Republicans on Capitol Hill willing to speak the truth about the President, Flake may well end serving as an abject lesson as to what can happen when you stand in opposition to Donald Trump.

In an interview here, he ticked off some of his earliest criticisms of the president — from the days when Mr. Trump peddled the false theory that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, to the time Mr. Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” to his call for a complete ban on travel to the United States by Muslims — before looking up and stopping himself.

“In which of those instances,” the senator asked, “should I not have spoken out? At what point should you not stand up and say, ‘This is not right; this is not conservative; this is not where Republicans ought to be?’”

Mr. Flake said he had known from the start that taking on Mr. Trump might do him political harm. Even before he declared the president’s brand of populism a corruption of conservative values, he anticipated a tough primary challenge, given his policy differences with Mr. Trump on issues like immigration, trade and Cuba.

“The truth is, if my only goal were to be elected, re-elected to mark time in the Senate, there are much easier paths,” he said.

The 2017 iteration of the GOP is no longer the party of Reagan or Lincoln; it’s the party of Donald Trump. More accurately, it’s become a cult of personality, with the President at the center. That this is inimical to American democracy shouldn’t even need to be mentioned.

This is how democracy dies, y’all.

Ronald Reagan wouldn’t stand a chance with today’s angry, socially conservative, nativist GOP. It’s no longer a party committed to the cause of classical Conservatism. It’s become the party of rage, reaction, bigotry, and identity politics. If you’re Conservative, White, Christian, and heterosexual, you’re golden. If not, you’re “less than” and considered subservient to the ruling class.

Sen. Flake is hardly a shining beacon of unflinching principle; he’s as responsible as any Republican for our current state of affairs. I congratulate him on his epiphany and for his willingness to speak out…but I’d hesitate before I’d refer to his change of heart as “courageous.” If Sen. Flake was truly committed to standing up against GOP’s cult of personality, he’d be calling for Republicans to stand up in opposition to the President.

As with any Republican in Congress, though, the courage required to speak out forcefully and call for action is conspicuous by its absence. At this point, mere high-minded words aren’t what’s needed…but that appears to be all Sen. Flake has to offer.

Words don’t defeat a bully. Principles alone can’t defeat a thug. Republicans like Sen. Flake seem to want to fight without getting their hands dirty. If there’s one thing this President has shown in his first nine months in office, it’s that he has no problem getting dirty…and personal.

Nice work, America.

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