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Jeff Flake on running for president in 2020: ‘I have not ruled it out’

Jeff Flake made a trip to New Hampshire where he was critical of President Trump and said he hasn't ruled out running against the president in 2020 on March 16. (Video: Jordan Frasier/The Washington Post)

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) took his boldest step yet in stoking speculation about his political future by traveling to New Hampshire to critique President Trump.

Flake, who is set to retire after one term in the Senate, spoke at a “Politics and Eggs” breakfast at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, a Granite State tradition that draws declared presidential contenders and those who at least want to be mentioned as possible candidates.

For now, it seems, Flake fits in the latter category.

“It has not been in my plans to run for president, but I have not ruled it out,” Flake said when asked by a member of the audience about a potential presidential campaign.

“I hope that someone does run in the Republican primary, somebody to challenge the president,” Flake added. “I think that the Republicans want to be reminded what it means to be a traditional, decent Republican.”

Flake spoke for about 20 minutes — reiterating his long-held view that despite agreement with Trump on some issues, his temperament, world view and nationalistic economic theories make him ill-suited to be president.

“The irony should not escape us here that someone whose name became known to us as a builder would have such a penchant for destruction,” he said — echoing similar remarks he made Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington.

Last summer, Flake released a conservative treatise that quickly became a bestseller as he questioned Trump’s economic and world view and doubled down on his belief of what the conservative movement should stand for. Response to the book contributed to his decision to announce his retirement in October. But he has continued his criticism, even giving a Senate floor speech in January that compared Trump’s public criticism of the news media to similar comments made by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In planned speech, Sen. Jeff Flake compares Trump’s media attacks to comments by Stalin

Flake is among a small number of potential GOP primary contenders that includes Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who hasn’t ruled out a run and is set to visit New Hampshire this month. Trump is making an official visit to New Hampshire on Monday to talk about opioid addiction.

Flake’s decision to retire after one term in the Senate was sparked by growing unpopularity with Arizona Republicans, who have widely deemed him insufficiently supportive of the president, and his departure signals the ongoing transformation of the Republican Party.

But on Friday, Flake told the crowd, “If my party is going to try to pass off this degradation of the United States and her values from the White House as normal … then my party does not deserve to lead.”

Jeff Flake knew his criticism of Trump would cost him. He couldn’t stop himself.

After the speech, multiple people approached the senator and urged him to run for president.

“He’s in New Hampshire on a cold March day, and he’s from Arizona, so we kind of figured out that he’s up here on a presidential campaign,” said Bob Morgan, of Manchester, who attended the speech.

Flake, who brought his wife with him to the speech, clearly relished the attention. As is tradition, he signed several of the wooden eggs given to each member of the audience. They’re already emblazoned with “2020.”

Jordan Frasier in Manchester, N.H., contributed to this report.