Thursday, November 8, 2018

President Trump says he ‘retired’ Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake: ‘I did the country a great service’

President Donald Trump said that he did the country a big favor by pushing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to retire.

Speaking at a wild press conference on Wednesday, Trump said he “did the country a great service” by “retiring” Flake, who he has characterized as one of the weakest conservatives in the Senate.

The conference came a day after the midterm elections, in which Republicans expanded their Senate majority while losing their hold on the House of Representatives.

Trump takes credit for Flake retirement

Daily Mail reporter Francesca Chambers asked Trump on Wednesday whose “fault” it was for the spate of Republicans retiring from Congress, including Flake and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), another prominent Republican who has often broken with the president. The question came after Trump commented that a high number of retirements in the House made things difficult for him this election.

But it may have been Trump’s takeover of the party that has pushed moderate Republicans like Flake and Ryan to quit politics. Republicans who oppose the president increasingly find themselves without a home in the age of Trump, where lack of loyalty to the president can spell a death sentence from the party’s base. Flake, a Trump critic, admitted that he would not be able to win a Republican primary under the current political climate when announcing his retirement last year.

“The bottom line is if I were to run a campaign that I could be proud of and where I didn’t have to cozy up to the president and his positions or his behavior, I could not win in a Republican primary,” Flake said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last year. “That’s the bottom line.”

Trump didn’t hesitate to accept credit for the unpopular Republican’s ouster.

“In Jeff Flake’s case, it’s me, pure and simple. I retired him. I’m very proud of it, I did the country a great service,” Trump said. “He is retired. I’d like to call it another word, but we’re gonna treat him with great respect.”

Exile of the RINOS

Flake is a moderate Republican who has often lamented the rightward shift of his party under Trump’s leadership. He has been a thorn in Trump’s side, commenting recently that Obama’s tone was better than Trump’s and writing in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post that Republicans need to ditch the “cult of personality” surrounding the president.

Flake had the nation standing at attention during the final days of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in October when he voted to move the process forward to the Senate floor for a vote while requesting a week-long delay for the FBI to investigate allegations of sexual assault against the judge. Flake eventually voted to confirm Kavanaugh.

But Flake was not the only outgoing Trump critic to be mentioned at Wednesday’s conference. At one point, Trump began rattling off the names of lawmakers who lost their bids for re-election after distancing themselves from him, including Rep. Mia Love (UT), Carlos Curbelo (FL), and Barbara Comstock (VA).

“Mia Love gave me no love, but then she lost. Too bad,” Trump said.

Critics have lamented that the new Republican Congress is “Trumpier” than before, a sign that the president’s takeover of the party is all but complete. While Trump’s critics see this exodus of moderate conservatives as a bad thing, the party’s base is mostly happy to see the weak Republicans go.

A battle for Flake’s seat is still underway between Arizona Reps. Martha McSally (R) and Krysten Sinema (D). The race was still too close to call as of Thursday.

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