Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake again took to the Senate floor to blast his party’s president — this time comparing President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media to those of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. He criticized Trump for referring to the press as an “enemy of the American people” and said the president has it all backwards.
“Despotism is the enemy of the people,” Flake said. “The free press is the despot’s enemy.”
If only there was something that Jeff Flake, a sitting U.S. Senator could do about it. Oh wait! There is! Senator Flake, if you’re reading this, here’s a few small suggestions.
Find a friend (in the Senate): With Doug Jones’ victory in the Alabama special election, the Republican Senate majority hangs by a thread. The GOP controls just 51 seats, meaning a single defector (looking at you, Jeff) could force virtually any piece of controversial legislation to a tie. A tie would likely be resolved in the Republicans’ favor since they also control the vice-presidency; but if you could find a single other Republican to join you in opposing Trump, you could grind the Senate to a halt.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker has suggested Trump cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons and may drag the country into World War III. Your fellow senator from Arizona Sen. John McCain has called Trump a threat to the entire world. Maybe start with one of them? Just a suggestion.
Censure: You have repeatedly condemned things Trump has said, from his equivocation of white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville to his alleged reference to immigrants coming from “shithole countries.” Fun fact: There’s a process for doing that formally. It’s called “censure.” Democrats have already attempted to censure Trump but failed without Republican support. In the Senate, all it would take is you and one other Republican to cast a vote formalizing things they have already said. If only there were other Senate Republicans who also condemned Trump for his comments….
Stall nominees: If Donald Trump is such a threat to democracy that you believe he is worthy of being compared to Stalin on the Senate floor, then perhaps Trump’s judicial nominees — some of which are lifetime appointments — deserve to be blocked.
You could make a huge statement by voting against the president’s nominees to force a tie, and if you could find another Republican defector you could really gum up the works for the Trump administration. Instead, you have voted for nearly all of Trump’s nominees — and even voted to end the Senate cloture requirement that meant Supreme Court nominees needed 60 votes.
Stall legislation: You could also choose not to rubber stamp Trump’s legislative agenda or could even take steps to block it. Again, you could bog down legislation in ties to be broken by Mike Pence or — with a Republican colleague — block it all together. Instead, you have cast critical votes in favor the Trump tax code overhaul and the so-called “Skinny Repeal” of Obamacare.
Demand tax returns: While Democrats continue to pursue Trump’s unreleased tax returns, Republicans are staying silent or actively thwarting Democratic efforts. In the name of transparency and normalcy, you could be the first Republican senator actively call on President Trump to release his tax returns — and you could call on your colleagues to join you by doing the same.
Impeachment: Your comparison of a U.S. president from your own party to a Russian dictator responsible for the deaths of over 20 million people is shocking. Yet, you do not believe that this president should be removed from office. Even today, you reiterated that you would still vote against impeaching Trump. It is true that you could not single-handedly impeach the president, but the symbolic consequences of Trump facing a member of his own party supporting an impeachment effort would be catastrophic to his presidency.
Run again: It is easy for you, a lame-duck ready to retire from the Senate to stand there and criticize your party’s president. You have no need to fear retribution from any sort of political base, but it’s also telling that Trump’s most vocal Republican critics — you and Bob Corker — are both senators who have decided not to seek reelection. By not running again, you send the message that you fear Trump’s base.
You’re not willing to go through a painful primary process in which you might lose. But Sen. Flake, if you really wanted to stand up to the president, you would take the fight back home to Arizona. There, you could make a case against Trump in your own state to your own voters — including Republicans — while presenting a rational alternative to radicals like Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
By deciding not to run, you send a clear message: this is Trump’s party now and you’re willing to let it stay that way.