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 FlakeSchumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days Poll: Sanders most popular senator, Flake least 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 McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation 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 RubioOvernight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE, Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber GOP rep: 'Rand Paul is giving the president bad advice' on Afghanistan and Syria MORE, Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonCongress sends bill renewing anti-terrorism program to Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval MORE, Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE, and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Trump AG pick signals new scrutiny on tech giants | Wireless providers in new privacy storm | SEC brings charges in agency hack | Facebook to invest 0M in local news AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley 'behemoths' Grassroots political participation is under attack in Utah and GOP is fighting back 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 John TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' 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 McCainOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Mark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally MORE. You have Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer 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.”