- Jake Tapper: Sarah Palin and Breitbart are saying things along the lines that Trump broke you. What's your response to that?
Jeff Flake: I'm still standing. No, there are other things in life than politics. And I can tell you when and where I would be broken. Is if I were to say that the path to reelection is to embrace the President's policies that I disagree with and to condone his behavior, which nobody should condone. That would be a broken man who does that, so I feel good about where I am.
- Exchange between CNN reporter Jake Tapper and Flake after his announcement that he would not run for re-election in 2018 on 24 October 2017
Conscience of a Conservative (2017)
- The conscience of a conservative is pricked by anyone who would debase the dignity of the individual human being. Today, therefore, he is at odds with dictators who rule by terror, and equally with those gentler activists who ask our permission to play God with the human race.
- Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative (1960), as quoted in the Preface
- But in the tweeting life of our president, strategy is difficult to detect. Influencing news cycles seems to be the principal goal; achieving short-term advantage, you bet. But ultimately, it's all noise and no signal. And in the absence of preparation and a well-considered strategy- especially when one is moving global chess pieces- volatile unpredictability is not a virtue. We have quite enough volatile actors to deal with internationally as it is without becoming one of them.
- p. 6
- But it is one thing to keep your adversaries or your "near-peer" competitors off balance with strategic unpredictability and quite another to keep the American people themselves similarly at a loss as to what exactly is going on, which is now a daily occurrence, to say nothing at all about the vexation on the part of many of our traditional allies all over the world. I began writing this book after returning from a trip to Mexico City on a one-senator diplomatic mission to calm and reassure the nation to our south- a vitally important friend and trading partner- that all will be well, that America is still America. But is it?
- p. 6
- The meetings with Mexican officials were planned before the election, but they took on even greater significance after Trump's win. But even before the election, it was obvious that my party had taken a sharp turn away from the conservative principles that have defined it for nearly a century and that I have tried to uphold for my entire life. And the animating question of how this had happened to my party already seemed to be a profound problem for our democracy, and one badly in need of a solution. I write this book because we as conservatives- and conservatism itself- are in crisis.
- p. 6
- By any honest assessment of where we are as a party, without a major course correction, we are simply on the way out. The demographic picture of America is rapidly changing, and we have to change with it. George W. Bush got 56 percent of the white vote, and won. Mitt Romney got 59 percent of the white vote, and lost. Every four years in this country, the electorate gets about two percentage points less white; as an increasingly old and increasingly white party, we are skidding with each passing election toward irrelevance in terms of appealing to a broad electorate. We hold out our hand, expecting our share of nonwhite votes, and yet we give these Americans too few reasons to come our way. Instead, we demonize them, marginalize them, and blame them for our country's problems. We all knew of this before the last election, but we quickly set it aside for the sugar high of populism, nativism, and demagoguery. The crash from this sugar high will be particularly unpleasant.
- p. 8
- But it's deeper than that. We have given in to the politics of anger- the belief that riling up the base can make up for failed attempts to broaden the electorate. These are the spasms of a dying party. Anger and resentment and blaming groups of people for our problems might work politically in the short term, but it's a dangerous impulse in a pluralistic society, and we know from history that it's an impulse that, once acted upon, never ends well.
- p. 8
Speech in the U.S. Senate (2017)
- Full transcript, New York Times (24 October 2017)
- At a moment when it seems that our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than by our own values and principles, let me begin by noting the somewhat obvious point that these offices that we hold are not ours indefinitely. We are not here simply to mark time. Sustained incumbency is certainly not the point of seeking office and there are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles. Now is such a time.
It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret because of the state of our disunion. Regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the coarseness of our leadership.
- But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue with the tone set up at the top. We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency.
The reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve. None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that that is just the way things are now.
- And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit and weakness. It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?
- When we remain silent and fail to act, when we know that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseam, when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of our institutions and our liberty, we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.
- If I have been critical, it is because I believe it is my obligation to do so. And as a matter and duty of conscience, the notion that one should stay silent — and as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters — the notion that we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.
- Acting on conscience and principle in a manner — is the manner — in which we express our moral selves and as such, loyalty to conscience and principle should supersede loyalty to any man or party.
- When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country, and instead of addressing it, goes to look for someone to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops.
Humility helps, character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly or debased appetites in us. Leadership lives by the American creed, “E pluribus unum.” From many one. American leadership looks to the world and just as Lincoln did, sees the family of man. Humanity is not a zero sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have been at our most principled, and when we do well, the rest of the world does well.
- We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.
- I will close by borrowing the words of President Lincoln, who knew more about healthy enmity and preserving our founding values than any other American who has ever lived. His words from his first inaugural were a prayer in our time and are no less in ours. "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break the bonds of our affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell again when touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.
Speech in the U.S. Senate (2018)
- As quoted in "Jeff Flake's 20 most damning lines about Donald Trump's assault on the press" (17 January 2018), by Chris Cillizza, CNN
- No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions.
- Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler.
- In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action.
- If we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.
- U.S. Senator Jeff Flake official U.S. Senate site