Says David Rutz, “I continue to not understand Flake’s closing argument in elected office of ‘I would normally be a spineless opportunist but now I’m not.'” It is strange. Flake made the same point during the Kavanaugh wars, when he was asked whether he would have paused the confirmation process for an FBI investigation if he had to face voters at the polls in November. “Not a chance,” said Flake. What he meant by that, I take it, is “There’s not a chance I could have done it and gotten reelected.” It’s a criticism of the ferocious partisanship that dominates the electorate right now.
But that makes it sound like he’s saying that he wouldn’t have taken these stances if he personally stood to lose anything by doing so. Which is … some admission. Sure, it’s important to find out if the next Supreme Court justice is lying about a youthful rape, and sure, it’s important to try to stop President Loose Cannon from firing the special counsel in a fit of anger. More important than a Senate seat, though? Nah.
But that interpretation’s unfair. After all, part of the reason Flake retired in the first place was that he refused to hold back on criticizing Trump, knowing full well that that would badly damage his political career. He had a choice between keeping his mouth shut and running again or speaking his mind about the right’s new hero and accepting the consequences. He chose the latter and opted to retire rather than endure the humiliation of losing badly to Kelli Ward in a Senate primary, and having done so, it’s freed him to extend his criticism of Trump into strategic obstruction. By word and now deed, Flake is actually one of the *least* careerist members of his party in Congress. And has been for awhile. He joined the Gang of Eight in 2013, remember, despite representing a state that had passed one of the strongest anti-illegal-immigration laws in the country a few years before.
His point, I think, is really this: In the modern Republican Party, any meaningful opposition to Trump is a potential firing offense. You can keep your job or you can try to advance important priorities that might upset the president, but you can’t do both. What those particular priorities might be is almost irrelevant to the equation.
But none of that is to say that his obstruction on judges isn’t annoying. It is, for the simple reason that it’s obviously futile. Flake has leverage to inconvenience his caucus but not to actually stop them from doing what they want to do. He can push the confirmation process into next year, but that’s it. And his pet priority in this case, the cause of protecting Robert Mueller, has no chance whatsoever of becoming law. Obstruction to no meaningful end smells a lot like spite. And let’s face it, obstructing judicial confirmations is about the worst thing a Republican in Congress nowadays can do. This garbage party exists for three and only three reasons anymore: Protecting Trump, cutting taxes, and remaking the federal judiciary. They’ve already got the first two covered and now here’s Flake screwing with the third. As POTUS would say: Sad!