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.

Confirmed Cases: 95310

Reported Deaths: 2874
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7063159
DeSoto552159
Harrison382973
Jackson345670
Madison326586
Rankin325677
Lee268368
Jones246879
Forrest245571
Washington221972
Lafayette215439
Lauderdale2044125
Bolivar182366
Oktibbeha177350
Lamar167534
Neshoba1559104
Lowndes152658
Panola146328
Sunflower144546
Warren140250
Leflore139581
Pontotoc125916
Pike123050
Monroe122168
Scott117327
Copiah117133
Coahoma115028
Holmes109558
Marshall109217
Lincoln108353
Grenada107736
Yazoo105530
Simpson102544
Union99324
Tate97637
Leake95338
Adams93037
Wayne89421
Pearl River87353
Marion85735
Prentiss84417
Covington81922
Itawamba79421
Alcorn79111
Newton76723
George76513
Tallahatchie76321
Winston73719
Tishomingo67238
Chickasaw67024
Tippah66517
Attala65425
Walthall59825
Clay58918
Clarke58145
Hancock57721
Jasper56815
Noxubee54816
Smith53114
Calhoun51312
Tunica48313
Claiborne46216
Montgomery45920
Lawrence43112
Yalobusha42814
Perry41918
Humphreys37615
Quitman3725
Stone37012
Greene36617
Jefferson Davis33911
Webster33613
Amite32510
Carroll31512
Wilkinson30318
Kemper28815
Sharkey26513
Jefferson2449
Benton2252
Franklin1923
Choctaw1816
Issaquena1043
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 133433

Reported Deaths: 2349
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19441349
Mobile13271291
Montgomery8778179
Madison775480
Tuscaloosa7496119
Shelby584951
Lee582961
Baldwin516550
Marshall390944
Calhoun346641
Etowah342047
Morgan325428
Houston278123
Elmore263247
DeKalb239120
Walker228483
St. Clair227837
Talladega212728
Limestone206120
Cullman188519
Dallas177426
Franklin175529
Russell17442
Autauga173825
Lauderdale168233
Colbert163626
Blount159415
Escambia158425
Jackson154611
Chilton153531
Dale135444
Covington134427
Coffee13078
Pike11879
Chambers115142
Tallapoosa114685
Clarke107717
Marion95729
Butler91339
Barbour8577
Winston73712
Marengo70820
Lowndes65327
Pickens65114
Bibb64210
Randolph63713
Hale62828
Lawrence60922
Geneva5995
Bullock59814
Cherokee59115
Monroe5818
Clay5707
Washington55613
Perry5407
Conecuh53111
Crenshaw53132
Wilcox53111
Henry4865
Macon48020
Fayette4438
Sumter43419
Lamar3632
Choctaw34612
Cleburne3396
Greene30315
Coosa1673
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