Flake call for GOP to return to its roots sparks range of reactions

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said reaction has been generally positive to his book that says the Republican Party has “lost its way,” but some party members were angered by the message. (Photo by Nathan J. Fish/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Arizona conservatives’ reaction to Sen. Jeff Flake’s claim that the Republican Party has lost its way appeared to be as divided Monday as the party itself.

Flake is making the rounds to promote his new book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” arguing in an interview Monday that the “party is being compromised” by non-conservative values like populism and anti-immigrant rhetoric. He also issued a call for a return to civility and bipartisanship that he said is lacking in today’s politics.

Flake, who kicked off the round of book interviews with an appearance Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said Monday that response to the book has been generally positive. But he acknowledged that not everyone has been happy with the message.

“There will be some who don’t like conservative politics and don’t see it that way,” Flake said.

Corky Haynes is one of them.

“The Republican Party has not lost their way, it’s people like (fellow Arizona Sen. John) McCain and Flake who have lost their way,” said Haynes, a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention. “We are working hard to get the Republican Party back on track.”

“Actions speak louder than words,” Haynes said of Flake. “Every time we turn around, he’s not supporting what the people of Arizona want.”

But others, like conservative radio talk show host Mike Broomhead, defended Flake’s push for bipartisanship, even though he said it will be tough to pull off.

“Ideologically, it is the right to do, it’s the right thing to say and it’s the right thing to hope for,” Broomhead said. “I just don’t know who’s going to be the ones to make the first move.”

Broomhead also said that both parties would “be a lot better off if they were a little more civil,” noting the harsh back and forth between party leaders in the midst of recent healthcare debates.

“To say that somebody is out to intentionally do damage is just ludicrous,” Broomhead said. “That’s part of the problem – you don’t call somebody wrong anymore, you call them evil.”

A recent study by Pew Research Center found that just 11 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of the Republican Party, and 12 percent of Republicans look favorably on Democratic Party. Both numbers are lower than they were in January.

Flake said Monday that about half of his book talks about the need for civility in politics and half is about the need to return to the type of conservatism espoused by Arizona icon Barry Goldwater in his 1960 book, also titled “Conscience of a Conservative.”

The party today “is being compromised” by non-conservative values like populism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, Flake said, and has gotten away from Goldwater ideals of limited government and free trade, among others .

“We see the maximum amount of chaos right now in governing,” Flake said. “That’s not a conservative trait and it won’t lead to conservative policies being implemented.”

Flake said that chaos has been a long time coming. When he arrived in Congress in 2001, in a class with current Vice President Mike Pence, he said they felt like Minutemen being “called to the battle front and being told that the revolution was over. The ideas are done.”

By then, he said, the “politics of personal destruction” held sway and party members were being pressured to vote for measures they may not have agreed with. He called it a crisis of the conservatives’ own making.

Flake made a point Monday of saying he was not specifically attacking President Donald Trump, citing several areas where he agrees with the president, but attacking the larger demeanor of debate.

“Some people will look and say, ‘It’s a critique of a current president and occupant of the White House.’ I tried to explain in this book, this was a long time in making,” he said.

When asked for a comment, the White House issued a statement Monday calling the president “a champion of conservative principles that include law enforcement, religious liberty, school choice, replacing Obamacare, tax reform that lowers the burden on average families and downsizing the size and scope of the federal government by peeling back burdensome regulations.”

Flake has sparred frequently with the president, angering people like Haynes and contributing to Flake’s position as one of the most-vulnerable senators up for re-election next year. That perceived vulnerability has lead Flake to walk what Arizona political analyst Mike Noble called a “fine line.”

“I think everyone’s always worried about their re-election, anyone who says they’re not is probably lying,” Noble said Monday. “He’s been voting for what he thinks is right, but also he has been outspoken on things he definitely disagrees with.”

Noble said “Jeff Flake has always been Jeff Flake,” someone who is not afraid to speak his mind.

“When he disagrees with the party, he says, ‘Yes we are Republicans, but there are different shades of red,'” Noble said.

Flake said Monday that he hopes the Senate can move forward in a bipartisan manner and that lawmakers are “at our best in the Senate when we work across the aisle.”

“I think we have seen the limits of what one party can do,” Flake said. “We experienced that last week, on healthcare and any of the big issues. It’s really going to take the parties working together.”