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Jeff Flake knows the GOP is in trouble, and so does the base

Jeff Flake knows the GOP is in trouble, and so does the base
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And so:

Arizona’s GOP establishment Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Republican reactions to Cheney's removal Flake: No greater offense than honesty in today's Republican Party Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE has decided against running for reelection in 2018.

Message: The Trump Revolution wins another one. Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, Trump’s one-time White House strategist, carries the day.

The other week, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Biden, Senate GOP take step toward infrastructure deal as other plans hit speed bumps Senate GOP to give Biden infrastructure counteroffer next week Masks shed at White House; McConnell: 'Free at last' MORE stepped into the Rose Garden and said this, among other things, when discussing Bannon and the challenge to GOP establishment candidates: 

The goal here is to win elections in November. Back in 2010 and 2012, we nominated several candidates: Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, Richard Murdock. They're not in the Senate and the reason for that was they were not able to appeal to a broader electorate in the general election.

Stop right there. Now that Jeff Flake is calling it quits, let’s focus on those words from McConnell.

First, as noted in Breitbart, McConnell “failed to mention the anti-establishment candidates in 2010 who won, despite McConnell’s opposition — Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioStudy: Early unemployment cutoff would cost 16M people 0B The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Senate votes to repeal OCC 'true lender' rule MORE, Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFauci on Rand Paul: 'I just don't understand what the problem is with him' Buckingham Palace requests 'Trump Train' remove image of queen from bus The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting MORE, Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonImmigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart GOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Rand Paul clashes with Fauci over coronavirus origins MORE, Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE, and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Energy: Colonial Pipeline says it has restored full service | Biden urges people not to panic about gasoline shortages | EPA rescinds Trump-era cost-benefit rule Senate panel advances Biden's deputy Interior pick Hillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech MORE.” Correct, and every single one of those now-senators was in the day dismissed as un-winnable candidates by their establishment GOP opponents.

I personally was told by then-GOP Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who had been unsuccessfully challenged by Toomey for the GOP Senate nomination in 2004 and was getting a second challenge again in 2010, that Toomey could never win a statewide election in Pennsylvania because he was “too conservative.” Mere weeks after telling me this, Specter switched to the Democrats and lost that primary, with Toomey going on to win Specter’s Senate seat in 2010 and being reelected in 2016.

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Let’s focus on that reference to Christine O’Donnell. What McConnell leaves out is that once she had captured the GOP Senate nomination in Delaware in 2010 — in an upset that shocked the Republican establishment, both in Delaware and Washington — party bigwigs turned their backs on her campaign, in some cases going out of their way to sabotage it, according to O’Donnell herself. 

 

As with Jeff Flake today, the fact of the matter is that the GOP establishment is now, and has been for decades, going all the way back to the middle of the 20th century, opposed to conservative or anti-establishment candidates. Like clockwork it will preach party unity, and then, after losing a primary battle, it will find a way to sabotage the winner. The establishment did it to Barry Goldwater in 1964. It tried to do it to Ronald Reagan in 1980, with Illinois Congressman John Anderson running as a third-party candidate in November to try and block Reagan from defeating Jimmy Carter. And, of course, it did it again in 2016 with all manner of Republicans, beginning with defeated primary opponent Jeb Bush and including Jeff Flake, turning their back on Donald TrumpDonald TrumpProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Cheney: Fox News has 'a particular obligation' to refute election fraud claims The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE. Reagan and Trump won in spite of the establishment.

Note well that Arizona’s Flake spent the 2016 election repeatedly doing to Trump exactly what so many establishment Republicans did to Goldwater in 1964 — the very same Goldwater whose seat Flake now holds and who he holds up as a hero. 

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Time after time, Flake has acted exactly like all those GOP establishment types in 1964 who turned their backs on Goldwater, calling Goldwater an extremist and a racist and more. In truth, the real problem with the GOP is the Jeff Flakes of the party. As Reagan called them the “pale pastel” Republicans.

But the real question is, why does this happen in the first place? Why does Steve Bannon have to bust his chops to run around America helping all these GOP candidates take on the likes of Jeff Flake in the first place?

The answer is as simple as it is stark. The hard fact of life is that, long ago, the Republican establishment sold out to the left. Goldwater called the Eisenhower administration a “dime-store New Deal,” where the GOP leadership basically surrendered to Democrats by insisting whatever was at issue was OK but could be done more cheaply or just managed better.

In her memoirs, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Reagan’s political soul mate, described the same problem as she encountered it in British politics: 

At the level of principle, rhetorically and in Opposition, it [her own Conservative Party] opposed these [Labour Party/socialist] doctrines and preached the gospel of free enterprise, with very little qualification. Almost every post-war Tory victory had been won on slogans such as ‘Britain Strong and Free’ or ‘Set the People Free.’ But in the fine print of policy, and especially in government, the Tory Party merely pitched camp in the long march to the left. It never tried seriously to reverse it. … The result of this accommodationist politics, as my colleague Keith Joseph complained, was that post-war politics became a ‘socialist ratchet’ — Labour moved Britain towards more statism; the Tories stood pat; and the next Labour government moved the country a little further left. The Tories loosened the corset of socialism; they never removed it. 

And there it is. Margaret Thatcher as Steve Bannon. Americanize a few references and you have exactly what Bannon is talking about. You have Jeff Flake. You have John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRepublicans have dumped Reagan for Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE. You have Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE

There is a reason Donald Trump is not just in the White House but defeated a small platoon of establishment GOP candidates to get there. Simply put, it is the core conviction of the GOP base, based on years of frustration, that when push comes to shove, establishment Republicans will refuse to support the principles and policies they campaign on. 

As the calendar moves forward, the Trump Revolution and Steve Bannon have one more victory in hand.

One suspects there will be more. 

Jeffrey Lord is a political strategist and former CNN commentator. He served as an associate political director in the administration of former President Ronald Reagan and is the author of “What America Needs: The Case for Trump” and “The Borking Rebellion.”