On Tuesday, October 24, 2017, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona made a historic speech on the floor of the United States Senate. In the speech, he announced that he will not be running for another term for the Senate in 2019, citing a conflict between his values and politics. He opened the speech saying, “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.”
Senator Flake spoke of regret for the divided and indecent state of politics in the nation today, calling it an “alarming and dangerous state of affairs.” He went on to say that complicity in the face of that amounted to a “compromise of our moral authority,” and that, “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end…we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue, with the tone set at the top.”
Senator Flake has been a vocal opponent of President Trump for controversial remarks he made during his campaign, and while in office calling it, “reckless, outrageous and undignified,” and “dangerous to our democracy.” He declared in the speech, “It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. What are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do anything? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?” He spoke of the dangers of accepting the rhetoric used by President Trump as normal. He was alluding to the president’s use of personal slurs and insults to political rivals and members of his own party that disagrees with him. Senator Flake called this an abandonment of our principles. He even went so far as to cite James Madison on the importance of separation of powers.
He announced his intention to retire at the end of his term in 2019 by saying, “It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative, who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party, the party that has so long defined itself by its belief in those things.” He goes further in his rebuke of the Republican Party and its base saying, “It is clear to me for the moment that we have given in or given up on core principles in favor of a more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess that we’ve created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.”
Senator Flake is facing a primary challenge from the right in the upcoming election, and President Trump has thrown his support behind the challenger Kelli Ward. In his speech he said, “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.” He will have only served one term in the US Senate.