Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) delivered a stirring call to action in the Senate against a president who has proved himself unfit to govern. In an op-ed for The Post, Flake continued his message: “The outcome of this is in our hands. We can no longer remain silent, merely observing this train wreck, passively, as if waiting for someone else to do something. The longer we wait, the greater the damage, the harsher the judgment of history.” So what should Republicans do, exactly?
First, some conservatives with a conscience can choose to run as third-party candidates to continue their fight against a Trumpified GOP. Flake says he still loves the Senate, although he cannot abide the GOP. Why then not go to the voters in Arizona with his message as an independent candidate? If the Arizona GOP nominee is Kelli Ward, then sensible conservatives and independents may be looking for someone like Flake. But that might split the GOP, you say, and allow a Democrat to be elected! Well, that should be a feature, not a bug; crackpot candidates should be defeated. Country above party, right?
Second, conscientious Republicans such as Flake, Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) should band together. Without them, the GOP can pass no legislation. They should go to Democrats and negotiate a bipartisan, revenue-neutral tax bill. They can withhold their votes on an array of legislation (including appropriations) until the Alexander-Murray and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) fix legislation are put up for a vote. The Senate is broken because the GOP is broken; if a handful of Republicans decide to reject party discipline, constructive legislation is possible. And while they are at it — they should agree upon legislation disabling President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (by refusing to exercise the waiver of existing sanctions). In other words, Republicans who are no longer afraid of Trump can take their party and the agenda back by making common cause with moderate (and even progressive) Democrats.
Third, the Flake faction can (again in concert with Democrats) raise by resolution concern about Trump’s fitness and stability. They can demand hearings on Trump’s conflicts of interest, potential violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, self-enrichment and nepotism. They can even demand a vote on legislation to require the president to release his tax returns. Remember: They hold the cards in the Senate. Without their votes, the government does not get funded, a tax bill doesn’t pass, etc. They need to use their leverage to demand Trump abide by the normal rules of conduct every president has followed. But the House won’t agree, you say. Likely not, but it may inspire House GOP moderates to exercise their own leverage. If the Senate acts, the House will be under increased pressure to exercise its oversight responsibilities. Moreover, these issues then come front and center in the 2018 midterms. Flake and a few stout allies can help set an agenda worthy of a coequal branch of government.
Finally, Flake and company should denounce and deplore candidates such as Roy Moore who fan the flames of bigotry and show contempt for the Constitution. They can speak up when Ed Gillespie engages in anti-immigrant fear-mongering. Conversely, they can come to the aid of independent-minded Republicans willing to stand up to Trump.
But they will be risking their seats, you say! Well, Corker and Flake aren’t running, and others may not face the voters again (or, a few years from now, will look like heroes). If the GOP drums them out, those who want to run in 2020 or beyond — either for reelection or another office — can run as principled center-right independents. (See the first item above.)
All that is necessary to translate Flake’s actions into words is for Flake and a handful of other brave Republicans — who in one way or another have already shown willingness to put country above party — to use their votes to steer the party away from the rocks and to stand up to Trump. If they are successful, they can reclaim their party and spare the country from disastrous legislation and an unfit Trump. If they don’t rescue the GOP, they at least can plant the seeds of a decent center-right party that can spring up from the ashes of the Trumpified GOP.