Rather than repeat the highlights -- since much of the speech was highlights -- here's the full 17-minutes, if you haven't seen it.
What I thought particularly intriguing, although they didn’t comment on it back in the studio afterwards, is that as soon as Flake was finished, scathing as he was, Mitch McConnell praised him. Now, that by itself didn't stand out. Senators praise Their Distinguished Selves on the Senate floor like birds flap their wings when flying, especially when senators say they are leaving. But it was something else he added, that it was good to hear the things Flake was saying. I don't know how much of that was just senatorial courtesy, as well, but if so that exceeded the norms of gentility because this was the Senate Majority Leader commenting on someone who had just trashed the leader of McConnell’s party, and the party itself.
A common thought I've heard and read from many liberals is that they wish such strong criticisms of Trump by Republican senators, like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, were made by those who were not retiring. I understand the point fully. And I wish it, too. But in today's political environment that's probably too much too expect. Even John McCain, who's been more critical lately has done so from the near-certainty that at 81-years-old the senator will not be running for reelection. But in the end, you take what you can, and every dam needs a first break before the flow comes rushing through.
As a response on the far right, we've seen a lot of joy, suggesting that Flake leaving the Senate is a big win for Trump. The thing is, I've had no doubt that the far right white supremacist base would say something like that. Of course they're happy that someone critical of Trump is leaving. But in leaping for joy they're missing a massive part of the immediate reality, rather than something they're looking forward to down the line. The reality is that -- with Sen. Corker also firmly opposed to Trump -- this makes it all the more difficult for the GOP to pass anything important now, most especially the upcoming tax cuts. Republicans can longer count on either man, and that means they can only afford to lose one more vote to pass such big things. And with McCain becoming more vocal a critic, and senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski more in the middle, the GOP is in serious trouble for the next year. Even Rand Paul is a likely "no" on tax cuts, since by all reports the cuts would vastly increase the budget deficit.
The thing is, if Flake and Corker (and McCain, as well, as he has been suggesting) ever became willing to put actions firmly to their words and legislate on the foundation that -- as they themselves say -- Trump is an actual danger to democracy, they could do far more good than just making blunt speeches and statements. They could decide to vote against (and therefore block) anything that comes out of the Trump White House and contain the danger that they themselves say exists. I don't think that's likely at all, they remain conservatives representing their states, but I do think that on major issues their votes will be willing to stop what they truly see as wrong and dangerous, rather than vote lock-step with their party leader.
There's one other real-world problem for Republicans that comes from Jeff Flake pulling out of the Arizona race for re-election. Much as that overjoys the far right Bannon Wing of the party, it also opens the door wider for Democrats to take the Arizona Senate seat in 2018. That's no certainty, but a very serious possibility.
Arizona, after all, while a red state, is one of those that has the very strong potential of being in play (somewhat like Nevada) since it has a higher Hispanic population that other red states. And all the more so without an incumbent senator running. (Even an unpopular incumbent as Jeff Flake was.)
At the moment, the Republican front-runner is Kelli Ward, a Bannon-backed candidate who is not just far-right but a nut job, so much so that she's actually considered beatable. (She's one who recently said, basically, that because McCain is so sick he should resign and let her be appointed.) She's the only candidate who has announced so far, though several others are expected, most especially with Flake dropping out. Some are far-more respectable than Ms. Ward, who I'm sure the GOP prefers, though she's run before -- most recently losing to McCain -- and remains the favorite. And if she's the Republican candidate, the Arizona senate seat is up for grabs.
For Democrats wishing Flake would have stayed in the race, the reality is that he was likely to lose the GOP primary. He's been highly critical of the Republican leader, and is therefore unpopular within his own state. To win, he'd have to take positions he thinks are not just wrong but dangerous, and he said clearly on Monday he's not willing to do that. (And Democrats should keep in mind that, though he's very much a reasonable man with a thick streak of decency, and no Bannonite-loon, he's still a solid conservative who near-exclusively votes that way.) So, in the end, another Republican was likely to be on the ticket next year.
But 2018 is one thing. And while I'd dearly love Democrats to take the seat, and think it's a very real possibility, it remains just "possible" and has never been my assumption. Mainly, my concern is what is, and that's being able to block Trump measures for the next year -- and Jeff Flake now offers that likelihood, at least on the worst bills and most-especially the awful tax bill since it's presumed to increase the debt by $1.5 trillion. After 2018...who knows what the landscape will be then?? Maybe Democrats will turn three other states and not need Arizona to have a Senate majority. Maybe Trump won't even be president. We'll see. But that's down the line.
For right now, Jeff Flake's actions are anything but a "big win" for Trump. Being the first to to make a speech against Trump, even more emphatic that Bob Corker's statements, he opens the door wide for other Republicans to feel a sense of protection and find their voice, if only to criticze. He also takes away a certain vote over the next year -- a vote Republicans can ill-afford to lose. And he makes the race to replace him far more wide-open for Democrats to take.
But mainly, it was a great and important speech.