Former Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake Believes GOP Will Shed Trumpism
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's 11 days before the end of this president's scheduled term in office - a time when the national focus should be on what comes next under a new president. But after Donald Trump incited a mob to storm the United States Capitol this week, threatening the peaceful transition of power, congressional Democrats are preparing the groundwork for a second impeachment of President Trump, an extraordinary step that follows an extraordinary week in U.S. history.
On the Republican side, some of the president's former aides and allies have stepped aside in the wake of the violence he instigated. But many continue to support him, especially Republican officeholders who continue to object to the November election results even after they were forced into safe rooms to escape the mob.
So we'll start there. Where does all this leave the Republican Party moving forward as the country considers the repercussions of what happened this week? For that, we're joined now by former Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Senator Flake, thank you so much for speaking with us once again.
JEFF FLAKE: Thanks for having me on.
MARTIN: First, I just find myself asking - as a person who served in those halls, who sat at those desks, what went through your mind as you saw what was happening?
FLAKE: Well, it was awful - just awful. You know, those halls, those chambers are really sacred to anybody who's served there. And to see them desecrated like this and to see people killed - it was just - I can't imagine being there. It took me back to, you know, the baseball shooting where I was on the field. Or 10 years ago, Gabby Giffords was shot - and just kind of reliving some of these things. But I can't imagine what it would have been like to see your own citizens, some of your own constituents, doing this.
MARTIN: So the question now becomes, what should happen now? As we discussed, the - some of the Democratic leaders are saying that the president should step aside, that if he refuses to step aside, that the 25th Amendment should be invoked, where Vice President Pence would take office, at least for the next few days. And failing that, a second impeachment should occur. So the question is, what should happen now, in your opinion?
FLAKE: Well, obviously, we all hope that he would step aside. I hoped that he hadn't run in the first place, obviously, and he should step aside, given what he's done.
MARTIN: Seems unlikely. Seems unlikely.
FLAKE: No, he won't. The 25th Amendment isn't going to be invoked. And so impeachment, I guess, is the question. I would rather not see that happen. It's not going - there will be no conviction in the Senate. The Senate isn't returning until the 19th. It would take unanimous consent to return before then. It's not going to happen. And so I fear that the president would treat a second impeachment as a badge of honor, much like he did the first one. And I just don't think that that is a fitting punishment. I think to just see him go away (laughter) is the best we can do.
MARTIN: So let's talk more broadly about the party because the fact of the matter is that President Trump could not have done what he has done without the support of others. You declined to run for reelection in 2018, in part because you - what you've described as your party's embrace of a demagogue, meaning President Trump. What has happened to the Republican Party, in your view? What has caused this?
FLAKE: That's what's so painful. You know, I think we all knew - or anybody who paid attention to who the president is - and he was always going to do what he was going to do. But to have so many of my colleagues, now former colleagues, amplify his message, for example, on the election - that it was somehow fraudulent and rigged - that's what's been painful, and to see that parroted, you know, on social media via the Trump base.
And, you know, they're not going away anytime soon. But I think that it will be significantly diminished, that element who, you know, were big backers of the president. If this event - if there is ever a silver lining - it's tough to see with such a horrible event - but I think that it will cause the Republican Party to move away from Trumpism more quickly. It has to happen at some point. There's no there there with Trumpism.
MARTIN: So why do you say that? I guess I have - there's two - there are two parts to that question. First of all, why did this happen to begin with? And what convinces you that this has weakened its hold on the party?
I mean, the party is led by people who are either still loyal to President Trump, like the newly reelected chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, or Senator Mitch McConnell, also newly reelected, who has put very little distance between himself and the president, and that only extremely recently? So the question is, how did this happen? And why do you think it will change?
FLAKE: You know, it runs its course after a while. And it has. If you look across the country, overall, Republicans did OK down-ballot. But I think that there was a rejection of Trump and Trumpism. He lost by 7 million votes across the country and lost in swing states. So there has been a change. And I think that it'll be quickened by the events of the past week.
MARTIN: As a person who's been a Republican for - what? - your entire adult life, what would be your message to your fellow Republicans, particularly people who are serving in more local positions, and they're watching all this, and they're thinking, what do I do? What would you say to them?
FLAKE: Well, yeah, and it's even deeper than that. College, you know, Republicans is always looking to enter the party as poor kids. You know, what choices do they have? I remain a Republican and will because I believe that the parties that have - or the principles that have animated the party for generations - limited government, economic freedom, individual responsibility, strong American leadership - if we return to these principles, we can be a relevant, rational majority party in many states and win national elections.
But if we continue down this nativist road, this kind of personality cult kind of experience, we're not going to get there.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, Senator, on Wednesday, after the storming of the Capitol, you wrote on Twitter, today was an awful day, but tomorrow will be better. And on January 20, we will inaugurate a new president. Our best days are ahead. What makes you so sure?
FLAKE: When I entered the Senate on the first evening there, we were taken to the National Archives and were able to view in the - what's called the legislative vaults some of the artifacts of history and, you know, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, women's suffrage, the civil rights period. And I thought at that time, man, this really brings it home - the difficult things that we have been through. And they have been monumental, and we got through them, and we've become a better country.
We'll get through this. This is a particularly dark time. But we always say in this country, our best days are ahead. We mean it. It's always been true.
MARTIN: Do you think you'll go to the inauguration?
FLAKE: I will.
FLAKE: I'll be there.
MARTIN: That was former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona sharing his thoughts about recent events and the future of the Republican Party.
Senator, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
FLAKE: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.