“I think that four years is difficult enough — to unravel some of the damage that has been done internationally to our role, to our leadership position. We cannot — should not go another four years,” the Arizonan said.
“Are you willing to lose a cycle for the Republican Party because of the principles that you’re arguing?” the event’s moderator, ABC News correspondent John Donvan asked.
“Oh, yes. Yes. You sacrifice a generation. You think, ‘Man, we might get some policy goals in the next year or two’ — look at the long term. Look at the long term, at what you’re doing for the party, because people don’t want to be associated with it,” Flake said.
“So, to boil it down, it’s better for a Democrat to win in 2020 if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, than for Donald Trump to win?” Donvan asked.
“Yes,” Flake replied.
The debate was hosted by Intelligence Squared US, which runs a live debate series on topics that polarize America. The two conservatives arguing for Trump were Kris Kobach, former Kansas secretary of state, and Liz Peek, a conservative commentator.
During his time in the Senate, Flake was not shy about his disdain for Trump and tried to adopt the role as the Republican’s moral compass. He spoke several times against Trump on the Senate floor and wrote an anti-Trump book.
But that Flake, a solid conservative during his 18 years in Congress, would advocate for a Democrat to run the country rather than someone who is pushing a Republican policy agenda, is further than he has gone in the past.
Some “Never Trumpers” — as Republicans opposed to Trump are called — wanted Flake to run against the president in the 2020 GOP primaries, but Flake has said he will not do that. However, he has also said he will not vote for Trump and is hopeful another Republican takes him on.
Flake retired from the Senate largely because he was likely going to lose a 2018 primary to a Trump-backed candidate. The day after the midterms, Trump held a news conference during which he celebrated Flake’s departure.
“I retired him,” Trump said. “I’m very proud of it. I did the country a great service.”
Trump, who does not let go of grudges easily, still has Flake on his mind. Just this past week, while on Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Republicans, Trump told them he liked 90 percent of the people in the room. He then said, “two of you I didn’t like last year” — referring to Flake and former senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), another vocal Trump critic.