In his final speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — who has been the most vocal of his colleagues in his criticism of President Trump and may very well, after 18 years in Congress, be remembered for ensuring the confirmation of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court — used the time to warn of global threats to democracy.
“As the authoritarian impulse reasserts itself globally, and global commitment to democracy seems to now be on somewhat shaky ground, I have been thinking a lot recently about the American commitment to democracy — where it comes from, and how, if the circumstances were right, it might slip away,” Flake said.
It was pretty standard Flake fare. He has faced criticism from the right for disparaging the president and from the left for not doing more to stand up to Trump beyond giving speeches. Flake announced at the end of last year that he would not seek reelection, saying there might not be a place for him in today’s Republican Party. (In other words, the party of Trump.)
The decision came at the height of Flake’s feud with Trump, in which he was a frequent target of Trump’s Twitter attacks. He reportedly trailed potential GOP primary opponents who were strong Trump backers and determined that he could not win. His seat wound up flipping; Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won it last month in a close race.
Flake’s final year in the Senate will now be bookmarked by two somber floor speeches. In January, he took to the floor to chastise Trump for “charting a very dangerous path” with his attacks on the news media and to blame the Republican-led Congress for not doing anything to stop it.
On Thursday, Flake reserved direct criticism of Trump and his colleagues for a later time, he said, and instead used his Senate swan song to warn of the frailty of democracy.
“I believe that we all know well that this is not a normal time, and that the threats to our democracy from within and without are real, and none of us can say with confidence how the situation that we now find ourselves in will turn out,” he said.
“As we in America — during this moment of political dysfunction and upheaval — contemplate the hard-won conventions and norms of democracy, we must continually remind ourselves that none of this is permanent, and that it must be fought for constantly."