U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) arrives at a news conference November 4, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.   His book, "Conscience of a Conservative," asks fellow Republicans to reflect on the future of the party.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) arrives at a news conference November 4, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. His book, "Conscience of a Conservative," asks fellow Republicans to reflect on the future of the party.

By Amanda Williams

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake says Republicans are in a precarious position. And the threat is coming from inside the party.

“In 1960 Barry Goldwater felt that the conservative movement and the Republican Party had been compromised by the New Deal, and 57 years later, I think the conservative movement and the Republican Party is being compromised by populism,” Flake said.

Flake details this argument in his new book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” arguing that conservatives need to find their roots, and those roots don’t go near President Donald Trump, whom Flake says has compromised the GOP philosophy on trade, leadership abroad and a host of other issues once core to conservatives.

His Future…Or The Party’s?

Flake’s criticism of President Trump has not gone unnoticed or unchallenged.

Backing the president is often standard procedure for representatives and senators in the leader’s party whose seats — like Flake’s — are up for reelection soon. But Flake sees his book and his message as fulfilling a “patriotic duty.”

“No senator ought to be a rubber stamp for any president. We shouldn’t feel that you have to be with the president on every issue. In this kind of shirts versus skins environment that we’re in, if you’re not with the president on every issue you’re somehow not conservative,” Flake said.

“I make no bones about the easier route to reelection would have been a little more quiet, not to have written a book and just kind of lay low and rely on registration numbers in Arizona or elsewhere,” he continued. “But I think the party and the conservative movement is in a bad place right now and I think it’s my responsibility to come out and talk about it when it matters — and it matters now.”

That doesn’t mean he’s putting principles over power entirely. Flake says he thinks sticking with President Trump over core conservative philosophies will cost the GOP its majorities, and maybe its existence, in the long-term.

Going Back To Goldwater

Flake gets the title of his book from his forerunner — conservative Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who lost a bid for the presidency in 1964 but wound up energizing his party. Flake sees a lot of similarities between the mid-’60s and today.. On 1A, he said the extreme elements of both parties need to be pushed out now, just as some Republicans moved against the far-right John Birch Society five decades ago.

But the party has continually faced problems from fringe or extreme elements — including Senator Joe McCarthy’s “Red Scare” 60 years ago and the “birthers” of this century — could this be coded in conservatism’s DNA?

“I think both parties have their extreme elements and you have to continually drive them out,” Flake said. “The birther issue is a blight on a lot of Republicans.”

The false claim about President Barack Obama should have been stamped out by Republicans early on, Flake said. Instead, President Trump promoted it for years before backtracking last September.

In the interview, Joshua Johnson pointed out that a return to Flake’s Conservatism means shutting down a human element that helped Trump win the 2016 election. “Bombast feels good, I think the pugnaciousness of a Steve Bannon, a Steven Miller or Donald Trump, they just feel good,” he said. “People like to see someone in the ring punching at the people who they think need to be punched.”

“You might be able to rile up the base for an election cycle, maybe two, but it doesn’t last,” Flake responded. “You have to have a governing philosophy and trafficking in conspiracy theories just isn’t going to get it.”

Flake pointed out that recent conservative leaders have achieved few goals, and while the move back to conservatism might cost them political power in the short term, it’s the right thing to do overall.

“I would hope you would put country before party and ask myself what am I actually accomplishing here?” he said. “What, if you’re a conservative, what conservative goals are we actually achieving? And I would argue that we’ve achieved very few.”

And while his party spent eight years opposing almost anything put forward by Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats, Flake says bipartisanship is the only way anything is going to get done. That means yes, Republicans should be sitting down with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, something many Republicans criticized President Trump for doing last week, but which Flake says is unavoidable.

“If you look at every good budget agreement we’ve had in the past forty years it happened when we had divided government, when both parties realized, hey, we’ve got to sit down and agree together,” Flake said.

If speaking out costs Flake his 2018 reelection bid, will it still be worth it?

“I have an opportunity to speak up now and if people say, well you were critical of the president during the election and my response would be when he referred to Mexican Migrants as rapists, or when he referred to John McCain in a disparaging way saying that he couldn’t support him because he was captured or when he referred to an Indiana-born judge as a Mexican in a pejorative way. On which of those issues should I not have spoken up?”

“If we can’t stand up for things of decency — put aside substance of policy, but just on the matter of decency — if we can’t stand up then, then when can we stand up, when will we stand up?”

Guests

  • Senator Jeff Flake R-Arizona

Read An Excerpt Of Sen. Flake's Book

Excerpted from Conscience of a Conservative by Jeff Flake. Copyright 2017 by Jeff Flake. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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