Jeff Flake on Roy Moore: We need to speak out against his religious test for Keith Ellison

“So far,” wrote NeverTrumper Charlie Sykes a few days ago, “no prominent Republican officeholder has refused to back Moore’s candidacy or been willing to point out its toxicity for the future of the GOP.” That was true at the time — Senate GOPers have been conspicuously tight-lipped about the prospect of Moore joining them in the chamber, knowing that getting on the wrong side of populists right now is reckless. Even Rob Portman, a rare Republican who supports legalizing gay marriage and whose son is gay, would only say when asked of Moore that he seems like he’d vote the right way on tax reform.

One Republican was willing to criticize Moore yesterday, though. Coincidentally, it’s the same one who’s spent the last year criticizing Trump, never mind that he’s up for reelection next year in a purple state and is deeply vulnerable on both the right and the left. Jeff Flake may be going down in 2018 but he’s going down swinging:

“I think that when we disagree with something so fundamental like that, we ought to stand up and say, that’s not right, that’s not our party, that is not us,” the Arizona Republican told the Atlantic’s McCay Coppins at the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington, D.C…

Flake said he is “troubled” by some of Moore’s comments, which he said represent the opposite of the political civility Flake called for in a book he authored this year. Republicans should have been much more “forceful” in denouncing the “ugly conspiracy theory” about the president’s birthplace in the past, and should be forceful in voicing their criticisms of Moore’s theories today, he said.

“I think the same is true when somebody says that members of our body, the Congress, the House of Representatives, shouldn’t be there, and to try and apply a religious test, that’s not right, and Republicans out to stand up and say, that’s not right,” Flake said, to applause from the audience.

He’s talking there principally about Moore’s op-ed in 2006 calling on the House to refuse to seat Keith Ellison on the theory that Muslims can’t properly swear an oath to the Constitution, having sworn supreme loyalty to sharia law first. (Democrats are going to use that against Moore when they inevitably demand that McConnell refuse to seat him.) But it’s more than that: Moore’s a Birther too and was skeptical of Obama’s natural-born status as recently as last December, after Trump had already backed away for electoral reasons. One of the many entertaining things about having him in the Senate will be watching the media bait him sporadically with birth-certificate questions and Moore trying to choose between standing firm, as a populist fighter must, or following Trump’s lead by shifting to a “don’t bother me with that” stance now that he’s a fancy politician. Even more fun will be watching how Trump responds if Moore doubles down on Birtherism. He won’t like seeing the guy who beat him in Alabama out-populist him, and he especially won’t want to be maneuvered into having to defend Barack Obama against Roy Moore. I’ll bet Trump can be goaded into retreating from his retreat on Birtherism and taking a “well, we’ll never really know” line instead. That’s his spin on Russia meddling in the campaign, right?

One thing that intrigues me about Flake is whether he really believes this “that’s not who we are” nonsense about the GOP or if he knows that, yeah, it’s exactly who we are but he can’t admit that for his own electoral reasons. He keeps insisting that the future of the GOP is small government and diversity contrary to all available evidence; he did it in the excerpt above (“that’s not our party”) and he did it in another interview about Moore yesterday, claiming “I’m obviously not enamored with his politics because that’s not the future of the Republican Party, that’s for sure.” I assume he has no choice but to say this given his reelection bid; you can’t very well run as a mild-mannered libertarian while agreeing with the conventional wisdom that pitchfork populism is the future. Sykes, who has no such electoral interests, knows which way the wind’s blowing, though:

It turns out that many of the Trump voters who had said they wanted to burn it all down meant it, and they are taking to the task with great relish. The result, the punditocracy declares, will be a full-out civil war in GOP. But it’s actually worse, quite a bit worse…

Republicans seem to have given up on talking to voters outside of their own echo chamber. Instead, the party is locked in an endless feedback loop as it tries with diminishing success to placate its most bombastic voices. The most obvious consequence is their inability (so far) to legislate. But in the longer term, we are seeing the crack-up of one of the nation’s two major political parties.

The GOP was once the party of William F. Buckley Jr., Ronald Reagan and John McCain. Today, Donald Trump is the face of what the GOP has become. Roy Moore is the face of what it is becoming.

If you had to bet right now, any reasonable person would bet there’s a better chance Moore will be in the Senate next year than that Flake will. And you’d also certainly bet that five years from now there’ll be more Moores on balance there than there will Flakes.

Incidentally, anyone know if a confirmation hearing has been scheduled yet for Ric Grenell? Grenell is a Republican foreign policy expert who’s been nominated by Trump to be ambassador to Germany. He’s also openly gay. Predictably, in 2006 Moore opposed George W. Bush’s nomination of an openly gay deputy to be America’s “Global AIDS coordinator,” calling it an “affront to Christian principles.” I wonder if Moore voting no on Grenell because he’s gay would encourage Democrats to support the nominee, purely so that they’re not associated with the reasons for Moore’s vote. His old nemesis Keith Ellison made the point a few days ago that it’s actually Moore, not him, whose religious views prevent him from properly swearing loyalty to the Constitution, since the Constitution of course forbids religious tests for office and Moore appears eager to apply them. Democrats will have a field day with that argument.

As for Flake, here’s who’ll be waiting for him in the Arizona Senate general election in the increasingly unlikely event that he makes it through the primary next year. Fun fact about Kyrsten Sinema, speaking of religious tests: She listed her religion as “none” when she joined Congress in 2013, leading to speculation that she’s an atheist, which she of course denies. Someone should ask Moore if Sinema should be seated if she wins.