Let’s compare his legislative prowess to Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who threatened to use his power to block all Department of Justice nominations after Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled he would punish states that legalized marijuana. President Trump promptly struck a deal with him. Would Flake have been better off following a similar tack?
Part of the problem is that Flake is temperamentally ill-suited to the role of rebel. The old Bill Clinton maxim about how it’s better to be “strong and wrong” than “weak and right” rings true. On paper, Flake’s comments are heroic, but, for some reason, they sound whiny and discordant coming from him. Some politicians are naturally disposed to optimism; others do indignation better. Flake is playing against type. In this defining moment, he’s trying to stand up as a resistance leader, but he has the persona of a boy scout. Consequently, it feels awkward and phony.
Is it possible that Flake might have been more effective at helping manage Trump’s tendencies had he played his cards differently? This is a choice between working with the reality of Trump/conservative populism (and trying to contain the damage) and working to rid the party of Trump/conservative populism (but risking the loss of all of your own influence, especially since partnering with the anti-Trump left creates its own problems).