Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 19 in Washington. (Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post)

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) sees his party gone mad (as in bonkers, but as in furious as well). The GOP has adopted the worst possible economic policy — tariffs and rent-seeking (i.e. countries now come begging for exemptions). It has come to admire Vladimir Putin, attack a free press and reflect, at best, indifference to misogyny and racism. I’m talking not only about President Trump but also the millions in the GOP who voted for him and still defend him. Trump — in all his vulgarity, ignorance, nativism and mean-spiritedness — is still overwhelmingly popular among Republicans. Some, a few, in the GOP cannot stomach that.

Flake, appearing on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, savaged tariffs. (“We need to aggressively negotiate both bilateral and multilateral trade deals because we’re going to be left behind. And, you know, when we only represent just over 20 percent of the world’s economy, only 5 percent of the world’s population, if we don’t trade, we don’t grow. And so we need to trade.”) He scolded Trump on North Korea. (“A meeting like that would be kind of an afterthought after things are negotiated. Here it looks as if, you know, that’s kind of the opening gambit.”) He chided Republicans for taking “as normal what is abnormal. We should never normalize this kind of behavior, particularly from the president of the United States.” He admonished Trump for his attacks on the First Amendment. (“He referred to the press as the enemy of the people. He stood next to [Rodrigo] Duterte as Duterte referred to the press as spies and laughed. … And it has an effect. Words matter. We had a record number of journalists being jailed overseas. Some on false news charges. Echoing the phrases that he uses.”)

Then asked if someone with his views should run in 2020, he demurred:

CHUCK TODD: So why are you leaving?

FLAKE: I — I just can’t. As a Republican who believes in free trade, limited government, economic freedom, I couldn’t be reelected in my party right now. Somebody who voices, you know, reservations about where the president is or criticizes his behavior like last night, it’s tough to be reelected in a Republican primary.

TODD: [Trump’s] running for reelection already. He announced that last night, basically. Do you think he needs to be challenged from somebody who espouses your views?

FLAKE: Yes, I do. I do. I mean, it would be a tough go in a Republican primary. The Republican Party is the Trump party right now. But that’s not to say it will stay that way.

And he’s right about it being Trump’s party. Take a look at the polls showing 80 percent or more approval for Trump among Republicans, or watch rallies such as the one in Pennsylvania on Saturday. Republicans cheer when he says he consulted foreign dictators about drugs and came away with the conclusion that the answer was death sentences for drug dealers.

“Is there anything more fun than a Trump rally?” The crowd hooted and hollered, delighted to have an entertainer channeling their ignorance and prejudices, their resentments and familiar enemies (the press, in particular). The more insults (at Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, Chuck Todd, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts), the happier they are. They’ve not just normalized what is abnormal, they are wallowing in non-facts, incivility and unseriousness.

In such a party, how in the world would the mild-mannered and serious Flake win? I don’t see it.

Likewise, think about Gov. John Kasich (R), who in his final State of the State address as governor of Ohio spoke about love (“Love is our ability to be able to do something for somebody else hoping they might do it for us, but we’re willing to pay a price for the good to help somebody achieve a better life and goodness, even if we don’t receive anything in return”), compassion, humility, forgiveness, personal responsibility (“When you have a gift, you can’t bury it. When you have a gift, you have to use it because you’re going to be held personally responsible for what you did with what you were given”), justice and respect for others. (“Live a life a little bigger than ourselves. And you know what it’s all about is human connectedness, that we’re connected to one another. When the police officers in Westerville were killed, then somebody who lived up near Lake Erie lost a little bit of themselves. When a little boy drifts ashore on a raft from a foreign country and dies on the beach, we all lose a piece of ourselves.”) What’s more, he proceeded to connect those values to specific policies on health care, educated for kids with developmental disabilities, the environment and so on.

In your wildest imagination you likely could not conjure up an image of Trump talking about such topics — in large part because he evidences no empathy, compassion, humility, etc. And for his cultlike following, they’d surely drift off listening to someone talk about values and problem-solving. (Where’s the red meat!? And what about Hillary?)

So what then are Flake, Kasich and Republicans who admire their views and/or public conduct do?

If the entire GOP is now like that crowd in Pennsylvania, they have to go the third-party route. There would be differences on policy (Flake is more libertarian, Kasich more a compassionate conservative), but at least there would be agreement on a foreign policy based on American values, openness to the world (on trade, on legal immigration), some semblance of fiscal sanity (although Flake voted for the debt-creating tax bill, which Kasich opposed) and support for law enforcement. And there would be a party, if they created one, supportive of an independent judiciary, truth (as best we can discern it), science, democratic norms and public civility.

We don’t know if there is a market for that in the center-right part of the political spectrum. We do know, however, that if the GOP remains in the grip of Trump and if the Democratic Party goes the way of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), there will be open political space and millions upon millions of Americans looking for a reasonable, decent presidential candidate who understands that the president’s job is not to incite the mob but to unite the country and address its serious problems. Let’s hope both parties shake off the extremes who offer fantasy in lieu of policy solutions and focus on finding someone of impeccable character who can unify a distraught country. Ah, to have a “normal” election! That would be grand.