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Flake: Better for a Dem to win in 2020 than Trump

Former Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFormer GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Klain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' MORE (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that he would rather see a Democrat win in 2020 than have President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE elected to a second term.

Flake made his comments at a debate in New York hosted by the nonprofit Intelligence Squared. Flake and New York Times columnist Bret Stephens argued that the GOP should not renominate Trump, while Liz Peek and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach backed the president.

Moderator John Donvan asked Flake if he would rather see Trump lose if he is the party's standard-bearer in 2020.

"Are you willing to lose a cycle for the Republican Party because of the principles that you're arguing?" Donvan asked.

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"Oh yes, yes," Flake responded, citing Trump's policies on issues such as immigration. Flake said that while those policies were supported by the president's base, they hurt the Republican Party over the long run.

"It can galvanize people for a while, maybe for a cycle or two. But in the end, it turns people off. It turns off minorities. It turns off women," said Flake, noting that anti-immigration policies such as those pushed by former Gov. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) hurt the GOP in The Golden State.

Flake was asked what the GOP should do if Trump remains the nominee.

"You sacrifice a generation, and you think, 'Man, we might get some policy goals in the next year or two,'" Flake said. But he hoped the party took a longer view.

"Look at the long term. Look at the long term, at what you're doing for the party, because people don't want to be associated with it," he added.

The former Arizona senator also said arguments claiming Trump is the only electable Republican candidate in 2020 are flawed.

"We would certainly like it to be a Republican. And this notion — this narrative that's been built up that Donald Trump is the only one that can cobble together the Electoral College and win is just a fallacy," Flake said.

A vocal Trump critic, Flake did not seek reelection in 2018 and retired from the Senate. He announced in January that he would not seek the GOP nomination for president in 2020 and signed on with CBS News as a political contributor.