PHOENIX — Former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake chastised former President Donald Trump in an editorial published on CNN Monday morning and argued conservatives should "move on" from the divisive leader.
The Republican leader said the party should distance itself from Trump despite the Senate acquitting him from accusations that he incited the deadly Capitol insurrection in January.
“We didn't convict him. We should have, but we didn't,” Flake said. “Let's not compound the grievous injury to the country and our party by continuing to embrace him, for Trumpism is the opposite of conservatism."
Flake, who represented Arizona in the U.S. House for 12 years and six in the U.S. Senate, began the op-ed by recounting the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise in Virginia in 2017, where he stood just feet away when the violence broke out.
“My batting glove, which I had just used to staunch the bleeding from [Scalise’s] hip, was soaked in blood,” he remembered. “My baseball uniform bore stains resulting from applying a tourniquet to the leg of an injured staff member while crouching on the dugout floor to avoid gunfire raging above us.”
After the chaotic situation ended, former Vice President Mike Pence called Flake to ensure he was OK. This was in spite of their strained relationship after Pence’s vice-presidential nomination, Pence looked out for a friend.
“I thought of that phone call on January 6, when the Vice President, while presiding over the counting of electoral votes, was rushed off the Senate floor to a more secure room while a mob roamed the capitol shouting, ‘Hang Mike Pence!’” Flake wrote.
Pence, a faithful and calming presence within the Trump administration, became the furious target of Trump’s indignation after signing off on President Joe Biden’s election victory.
Trump continued to excoriate his loss on social media even as rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol despite his unsubstantiated calls of voter fraud being endlessly debunked.
Flake called the comparison a testament to the difference in character between the two men and why Republicans should distance themselves from Trump after his historic second impeachment.
“We were once the conservative party,” Flake wrote. “Our party chose to vacate any claim to that mantle when we gave ourselves over to a reality TV figure whose commitment to anything other than his own self-interest has always been hard to discern.”
Trump has made a quiet retreat to Florida since vacating the White House but celebrated his acquittal and has said his political future “has only just begun.”
Arizona has become a focal point of the divide within the Republican Party, with GOP chair Kelli Ward remaining a steadfast supporter of Trumpism along with a large portion of the party.
Ward has targeted other Republican leaders like Gov. Doug Ducey, Cindy McCain - who publicly endorsed Biden - and even Flake himself with a censure after perceived disloyalty to Trump.
Even still, Flake wants conservatives to detach themselves from the man who was thrust into the nation’s highest elected office under the banner of anti-bureaucracy but exited by ceding party control of Congress and the White House to Democrats.
"There is no enlightened mystic at Mar-a-Lago -- just a diminished man who lost an election and couldn't accept it," Flake said of Trump.
"There is no redeeming his behavior. And let's not continue this tragic charade by further humiliating and debasing ourselves."
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