"THESE ARE CHALLENGING times." Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said with a little self-effacing chuckle. "The definition of what it means to be conservative has shifted dramatically over the last year or so."
We were at that most oxymoronic of Washington. D.C., events--a libertarian fundraiser for a major-party elected official. There are only about five people I'd consider doing this for, I have heard almost verbatim from hosts at two separate such gatherings in the grim political year of 2017. Los cincos amigos:Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah): Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.)and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.); and Flake.
And then there were four.
One week after the fundraiser, Flake made his exit from the world of electoral competition, announcing in an emotional Senate speech that he was no longer seeking re-election in 2018. "I will not be complied," the shaky-voiced senator declared. "We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country--the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions; the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations." The headline on his Washington Post op-ed the next day said it all: "Enough."
In the moment. Flake's gesture was hailed as a "historic" rebuke to the president (Mike Barnicle), "the most important speech of 2017" (CNN's Chris Cillizza), and even "a history lesson for the ages" (Forbes' John Baldoni). Then, predictably, a Donald Trump-related bombshell blotted out all competing political stories, when news broke three days later that Special investigator Robert Mueller would he handing out his first indictments in the Russia probe.
Even before that, though, the relentless gears of tribal politics had been busy busting apart Flake's stentorian pretensions and spitting out dismissive bile. "Jeff Flake was just fine with broken Washington until he couldn't win his seat," Pete Kasperowicz scoffed in the Washington Examiner. "Jeff Flake is not a hero, despite what he wants you to think." Think-Progress cautioned its lefty readers.
The critics had some valid points. Flake, like Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) before him, only turned away from politics in disgust when faced with a stiff challenge in his own primary. (And in increasingly competitive Arizona, the Democrats are putting up a strong Senate candidate in Rep. Kyrsten Sincma.) Flake also declared in his Post piece that "We can no longer remain silent. merely observing this train wreck, passively, as...