It looks like the state of Arizona has become the breeding ground of the fake Maverick Republican. Now that John McCain has been diagnosed with brain cancer, he is unlikely to run again and senator Jeff Flake is staking his claim to becoming the Republican that the media fawn over for being willing to issue statements and quotes that seem to go against his party’s dogmas while voting almost entirely along party lines. Flake has come out with a new book that seems to say some things that deviate from Republican orthodoxy and is making the rounds of the media.
Adam Johnson warns us not to be fooled by Flake.
Right-wingers attempting to brand themselves as anti-Trump is a grift we’ve seen dozens of times before––typically from media types such as Glenn Beck, David Frum, Max Boot, and Joe Scarborough. But rarely does one see it from a sitting senator such as Jeff Flake, the Arizona lawmaker attempting to take the mantle of his mentor, John McCain, as liberal and centrist media outlets’ favorite not-entirely-evil-Republican.
It’s understandable why Democrats and their anti-Trump allies would welcome this—after all, the anti-Trump resistance needs all the help it can get. There’s only one problem: thus far, Flake’s opposition to Trump has been entirely rhetorical in nature. Great in interviews, good with op-eds, pleasant when entertaining Atlantic profilers––but when it comes to substance, opposing the actions by the administration in the Senate or any of his cabinet or Supreme Court or cabinet picks, he’s a reliable Republican apparatchik.
As Vox’s Matt Yglesias noted, “has Jeff Flake done anything to use his powers as a United States senator to check Trump in any way?”
A cursory scan gives the answer no. Flake has, according to FiveThirtyEight voted in line with Trump 95.5 percent of the time, making him the eighth most reliable senator for the White House. Most noticeable among these pro-Trump votes was last week’s disastrous Obamacare repeal that Flake supported at every turn.
As with Flake’s colleague John McCain, the scam is ultimately one of lowered expectations. Because Trump has sunk discourse and the broader GOP to Mariana Trench depths, anyone who vaguely gestures toward baseline decency is heralded as a brave truth-teller––an angle Flake exploits to help polish his image and garner goodwill from an otherwise indifferent or hostile media.
The state of Ohio has its own weaker version of this grift in senator Rob Portman, who has shown himself to be utterly cowardly, making ambiguous noises and rarely taking the lead or a stand on anything until the die is cast and his vote does not matter anymore or can be safely embedded with the votes of the other members of his party.