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Republican angst with Trump surges, senator exits politics

Arizona senator Jeff Flake, who was up for re-election in 2018, chose instead to retire because of the “degradation” of US politics under a “reckless, outrageous and undignified” leader.

world Updated: Oct 25, 2017 20:17 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump,Republican Party,Republican senator Jeff Flake
A combination photo of Republican senators Jeff Flake (left) of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee. (Reuters)

Republican disquiet with their president scaled a new high on Tuesday when a party senator facing re-election announced he would instead retire because of the “degradation of our politics” and “the conduct of some in our executive branch”, and accused Donald Trump of being “reckless, outrageous and undignified”.

Arizona senator Jeff Flake, who was up for re-election in 2018, did not name Trump even once but in a speech from the floor of the Senate, he left no doubt about his target as he delivered a scathing critique of the president, his politics, his tweets, and the Republican Party and its leadership’s failure to stand up to him.

“We must stop pretending that the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal,” Flake said in the Senate with party leaders looking on. “They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behaviour has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.

“And when such behaviour emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”

Senator Jeff Flake (Republican, Arizona) speaks to reporters after announcing he will not run for re-election on Capitol Hill in Washington on October 24, 2017. (Reuters)

Flake has been at odds with Trump, and has taken him on in remarks, tweets and in a recent book. Though his retirement was a surprise, his re-election chances had seemed extremely dim - he was in danger of losing the primary and was trailing his eventual Democratic challenger in polls.

The White House was quick to point that out. “Based on previous statements and certainly based on the lack of support that he has from the people of Arizona it’s probably a good move,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at her daily briefing, referring to Flake’s retirement.

Flake’s attacks on Trump came just hours after another Republican senator, Bob Corker, retaliated against Trump’s insults on Twitter in the morning and called the president “untruthful” and accused him of “debasing” the country through “untruths” and “name-calling”.

Trump triggered the Tuesday exchange in a string of tweets wrongly accusing Corker of helping former president Barack Obama with the Iran deal. Corker had opposed the deal and rallied others to join him, and called Obama “incompetent” and “liddle” (for his slight frame).

Corker fired back soon enough. “I think at the end of the day, when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling, just the name-calling...I think the debasement of our nation will be what he'll be remembered most for, and that's regretful,” he told CNN.

Trump has clashed with his own party as often as, if not more than, with Democrats. He has had running feuds, all in public, with Corker, chairman of the powerful foreign relations committee, and John McCain, who heads the armed services committee.

McCain, who emerged as Trump’s chief critic in the Republican Party, took an unambiguous swipe at the president and his foreign policy recently, accusing him and his advisers of peddling “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems”.

And former president George W Bush, who has rarely commented on politics, especially on this president, has joined in too. “Bigotry seems emboldened,” former Bush said recently. “Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

First Published: Oct 25, 2017 15:54 IST