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A half-hearted cheer for Jeff Flake

Over the last two years, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has been the craggy, hapless, equivocating face of Never...

Posted: Sep 30, 2018 6:54 AM
Updated: Sep 30, 2018 6:54 AM

Over the last two years, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has been the craggy, hapless, equivocating face of Never Trump Republicans. He has repeatedly declared that "There are times when you have to stand up and say, 'I'm sorry, this is wrong,'" Yet when it comes to actually taking action to rein in President Donald Trump -- by, for example, demanding that the Senate pass resolutions to protect the Mueller investigation -- Flake has done nothing.

But today, finally, he did something. After agreeing to vote Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh out of the Judiciary Committee, Flake added a caveat. He asked for a week-long FBI investigation into outstanding allegations against Brett Kavanaugh before he would guarantee to vote yes on the nominee on the Senate floor. Trump has now ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to "update Judge Kavanaugh's file," as he said in a statement, and the Senate vote has been delayed.

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Many will say that Flake should have done more. And he certainly should have. Multiple women have accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault; in his testimony he lied repeatedly, insulted senators, spewed conspiracy theories, and generally showed himself unfit to be on the court. Flake hasn't even promised to vote "no" if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decides to hold a vote immediately. He's done the bare minimum to even approach decency. Kavanaugh may still end up on the court; Flake may still vote for him.

Still, the bare minimum is, by definition, slightly more than nothing. And it's worth remembering that Flake has done slightly more than nothing a couple of times in the past too -- especially when faced with issues of sexual violence and assault. When Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore was accused by a series of women of sexually assaulting them when they were underage, Flake didn't just denounce him. He became the only prominent Republican to openly endorse Moore's opponent, Doug Jones. He even contributed to Jones' campaign.

Similarly, when Christine Blasey Ford came forward to say that Kavanaugh had assaulted her at a party when he was 17 and she was 15, Flake took meaningful action. He insisted that the Judiciary Committee, on which he is a Republican swing vote, should hear her testimony. That's a major reason why there were hearings. Without Flake, Kavanaugh would probably already be on the court.

The consensus on the left is clear: Jeff Flake is awful. And that consensus is mostly right. But Flake is very occasionally not completely awful, and we should recognize that on strategic grounds, if nothing else, as politicians and activists on the blue side grapple against the Brett Kavanaugh nomination and the Trump agenda in the shadow of the midterm elections. It's worth it for a couple of reasons.

First, Flake, and other Republicans queasy about Trump, do have some power (as Flake has demonstrated in calling for hearings and an investigation). Ideally, they would use that power for good. They don't do that very often, but when they do, they should be encouraged, to the extent that's possible. Dissension among Republicans in power can signal GOP partisans that it's okay to take positions against Trump or against McConnell. The lack of enthusiasm from people like Flake may be part of why Kavanaugh is one of the least popular Supreme Court nominees in history. Perhaps, if Flake's good actions get enough positive attention, other Republicans might follow his lead. It's not likely. But Democrats winning a Senate election in Alabama wasn't likely either.

The second reason to highlight Flake's dissents, when they happen, is that they're a reminder that Republicans are not unstoppable. The last few years have been very bleak. It's easy to see the slide into an America many of us find hard to recognize as inevitable and irreversible.

But Flake's actions, pallid as they have been, don't signal a strong party. Senators simply do not endorse candidates from the opposite party, as a rule. Nor do they stall their own President's Supreme Court pick.

Commentators and pundits love to say that Democrats are unable to win elections or push for their values and programs. Often these criticisms are justified. But it's worth remembering that Trump has bitterly divided the Republican Party in many ways, too, and that that division provides Democrats and the left with some openings.

Republican disarray is a big part of the reason Democrats have been so successful in special elections this year; it's a big part of the reason that Democrats are in a good position to retake the House in November.

Flake's wavering stance is good because it may help to keep a man credibly accused of sexual assault off the Supreme Court. But the wavering stance is also valuable because of its wavering. Republicans are not unified, remorseless, and undefeatable. Flake is hardly the beacon of moral courage he likes to portray himself as. But, almost despite himself, his vacillations may offer some small reason for hope.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 147382

Reported Deaths: 3763
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto9874101
Hinds9821198
Harrison6982110
Jackson6218119
Rankin5417102
Lee498495
Madison4711106
Forrest375086
Jones352488
Lauderdale3412145
Lafayette319749
Washington3153107
Lamar286349
Oktibbeha243562
Bolivar240884
Lowndes232864
Neshoba2189118
Panola218849
Marshall211950
Leflore203490
Pontotoc199128
Monroe196077
Sunflower191055
Lincoln187865
Warren174157
Tate166951
Union165325
Pike160958
Copiah160440
Yazoo152939
Scott151829
Itawamba151134
Coahoma149543
Pearl River149467
Alcorn148228
Simpson146353
Prentiss143730
Adams139250
Grenada138845
Leake133243
Holmes127861
Tippah123730
George123524
Covington120938
Winston120024
Hancock117639
Wayne116923
Marion114846
Attala111234
Tishomingo108742
Chickasaw106932
Newton104229
Tallahatchie96727
Clay89927
Clarke89153
Jasper81722
Walthall76028
Stone75214
Calhoun73713
Montgomery72825
Carroll71415
Lawrence70714
Yalobusha70527
Smith70316
Noxubee70017
Perry65826
Tunica60219
Greene59722
Claiborne57916
Jefferson Davis56017
Humphreys53119
Amite52714
Benton49017
Quitman4846
Webster42314
Kemper42118
Wilkinson38722
Jefferson34711
Franklin3345
Choctaw3157
Sharkey30817
Issaquena1144
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 241957

Reported Deaths: 3572
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31809500
Mobile19651361
Madison12964148
Tuscaloosa12946154
Montgomery12263236
Shelby1016177
Baldwin857698
Lee771866
Morgan648050
Calhoun6215119
Etowah618266
Marshall618255
Houston522438
DeKalb480436
Cullman433442
Limestone418645
St. Clair413655
Elmore403764
Lauderdale396754
Walker3620111
Talladega347954
Jackson311723
Colbert306042
Blount287940
Autauga270442
Franklin250233
Coffee242015
Dale231754
Dallas225232
Russell22123
Chilton220638
Covington218034
Escambia197931
Chambers176450
Tallapoosa175491
Pike158114
Clarke157619
Marion137136
Winston131123
Lawrence126336
Pickens121618
Geneva12108
Marengo120224
Barbour117010
Bibb117017
Butler115341
Randolph101921
Cherokee101024
Hale96031
Clay91024
Washington90719
Fayette89316
Henry8526
Lowndes79429
Monroe78311
Cleburne76914
Macon73022
Crenshaw70930
Bullock69419
Conecuh68314
Perry6836
Lamar6678
Wilcox63118
Sumter57522
Greene42318
Choctaw42113
Coosa3414
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