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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Jeff Flake’s bitter exit interview proves senators need job counseling

If there was such a thing as an application to become a United States Senator, the job description would probably read something like this:

Job duties include:
--writing, reading and voting on bills that adhere to the plain language of the United States Constitution;
--representing your state’s interests in the United States Congress;
--participating in committee hearings and probing experts on proposed legislation;
Jeff Flake--questioning judicial and executive branch nominees for potential confirmation;
--debating with colleagues on amendments to bills;
--keeping abreast of world events and conflicts and approving treaties;
--maintaining regular contact with constituents on current events and legislation;
--sitting in judgment on impeachment proceedings brought under the Constitution;
--making regular visits to your home state to assess what is in the best interests of its citizens;
--maintaining a permanent residence in your state so as to not lose touch with your constituents;
--and, upholding the highest personal and ethical standards so as to not embarrass your constituents.

The position description would purposely omit:
--siding with like-minded colleagues to ignore the interests of your state and your constituents in favor of enjoying personal gratification and longstanding friendships;
--carrying grudges that have nothing to do with your official senatorial duties;
--fighting with the president over his social media habits; and,
--complaining endlessly about the “tone” of Washington while remaining completely oblivious to the desires of the people in your state.

Unfortunately, no such application or job description for senators exists. Instead, many power-hungry people haphazardly run for office and because of their connections, personal wealth, interpersonal skills, gift for public speaking or even good looks manage to get elected to serve in Congress where they often linger for decades, long past the time when normal individuals would have fulfilled the “duties” listed on such a mythical employment form.

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake typifies the type of person desperately in need of a congressional human resources department that could have provided him a brush-up on what his job was really all about. Flake announced he’s quitting the Senate the other day and conservatives rejoiced.

Gabby Morrongiello of the Washington Examiner reported, “Allies of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who vowed to target Flake in the 2018 midterm election, touted the unexpected decision by Arizona's ‘Never Trump’ senator as a clear victory for the GOP's anti-establishment wing.

“’This is the Bannon effect in action,’ an ally close to Bannon said in a text minutes after Flake announced his forthcoming retirement, citing the current political environment as the primary reason behind his exit after just one term in the upper chamber.

“’Never Trump Senators and allies of [Sen. Mitch] McConnell beware,’ the Bannon ally warned.”

Yes indeed. Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee, establishment senators.

Conservatives were giddy as they witnessed Flake mumbling through his “I can’t take it anymore” senate floor bunkum, using the opportunity to once again rip into President Donald Trump and decry the deteriorated character of the debate in Washington. To his credit Flake did indicate he was complicit -- along with everyone else in Congress -- for the mess that’s plaguing the country, but at the same time it seems he’s lost touch with where it all originated from.

As reported by Morrongiello, Flake explained in part, “The notion that one should stay silent 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 one should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.”

Again, getting back to a senator’s basic job description, what does any of this have to do with passing laws?

Putting Trump aside for a moment, no one would have had a problem with Flake expressing his opinions on the “tone” in Washington or any other subject that doesn’t directly relate to how he handles his occupation if it weren’t for his issue apostasies against the conservative agenda. There are a number of attention-seeking senators who freely offer their thoughts to the media on a variety of topics, yet it’s only the ones who consistently defend the establishment status quo that end up in trouble with people like Steve Bannon and the grassroots conservatives the Breitbart chairman represents.

We should not forget it really wasn’t all that long ago Senator Ted Cruz was speaking out regularly about Trump’s “behavior” including questioning whether a candidate should be encouraging his audience to “punch him in the face” when confronted with noisy protesters.

The same could easily be said for Senator Marco Rubio and every other candidate in last year’s Republican primary field, all of whom frequently dug at Trump for the unusual way that the New Yorker conducted his outsider campaign. Trump’s lack of “presidential” decorum was something rarely seen in modern politics and therefore came as a shock to his party opponents and Democrats alike.

These folks all signaled how damaging it would be to have a man like Trump elected president. Crooked Hillary Clinton (which turned out to be quite a prescient nickname, didn’t it?) often said we couldn’t have a president up tweeting at 3 o’clock in the morning when the next world crisis hit. Jeb Bush constantly stated Donald Trump would never be president because voters had too much “common sense” to elect someone like the brash-talking former reality TV star.

People like Flake and the other #NeverTrumpers are still arguing the point, too, but they’re essentially just whining about how useless and powerless they feel. Ben Domenech observed at The Federalist, “In a sense Flake had the worst of both worlds – he was a McConnell team player who voted very much in line with Donald Trump and the GOP agenda, while also being one of the president’s most prominent public critics.

“Stepping down makes it much more likely that someone will jump into the primary against Kelli Ward who has the potential to win the seat (keep an eye on Rep. Martha McSally in particular), and is thus different than the calculation on Bob Corker’s part. This decision is Flake recognizing reality has shifted, but it is also about recognizing that he – just like Corker and others who will likely bail – is incapable of making anything happen. This is less a changing of the guard, because Flake is not the guard, he’s more of a bystander to the guard, and he knows it.”

Therein lay the crux of the problem for the remnants of Republican anti-Trump resistance. They basically support the Trump platform (except Flake says he differed on immigration and trade) but they simply don’t like the man. These people – which includes Bob Corker and a handful of soon-to-be retirees on the House side -- criticize Trump’s tweets and claim he’s about to get America into World War III – as if they could gaze into a magic crystal ball and discover how Trump’s foreign policy is being digested in other parts of the world.

Everyone knows Ronald Reagan was viewed as a warmonger for his tough rhetoric towards the Soviet Union. Reagan understood what the politics-as-usual crowd didn’t, namely that the status quo would not be altered without making it appear as though America was more than ready and willing to confront the Soviets wherever they chose to fight and that nothing short of total victory would satisfy us if war ever did break out. “We win; they lose,” Reagan famously said.

Trump takes a similar approach to both foreign and domestic policy, a sea change in “tone” that frightens the deportment-centered establishment set. “How dare he say such a thing?” “Not even Barack Obama would have so publicly criticized me.” “Whose side is he on, anyway?”

Again, what’s any of this got to do with working on bills? Isn’t that what a senator is sent to Washington to do, to make laws? Where’s the job description?

Failure to come together on what they’re supposed to do has some even comparing the dysfunctional Republican Party to a failed marriage. The Editors of the Washington Examiner wrote, “Trump prides himself as a counterpuncher. If you don't want to get punched, just keep your mouth shut. Flake had often failed to do so, and Trump responded by going to Flake's state and rallying a large crowd against him, and then not-very-subtly encouraging other Republicans to run against him in a primary. With Flake's retirement announcement, Trump has accomplished his mission.

“The relationship between Trump and the congressional GOP cannot become functional unless Trump decides it's more important than being the best counterpuncher. Without a newfound and unexpected round of self-examination, they cannot govern together or improve the lives of those who voted for Trump and those who voted against him.

“Can a broken marriage be repaired? Can Trump rise to the occasion as president? Not without a willingness to listen to the constructive criticism of his friends and change.”

If it could be said that one spouse is more at fault in the breakdown of a marriage then there’s little doubt who’s to blame for the current impasse in the Republican Party.

The GOP elites still can’t accept that Trump, brash style and all, defeated the cardboard cutout political characters like Jeb Bush and John Kasich for the party presidential nomination last year. If Republicans in Congress would simply stick to what they were sent to Washington to do – pass laws – then it wouldn’t matter a lick what Trump does with his Twitter account.

And who knows, the party’s “marriage” might just avoid divorce court after all.

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