On the surface - but no deeper, as I am about to make clear - I am in concurrence with his premise: that a lamentably big swath of conservatives convinced themselves that a rudderless, vulgar buffoon like Donald Trump could be their standard-bearer in the volatile climate of the middle of this decade.
People of various stripes are going to react to the book title in various ways. There's an argument to be made that it's an exercise in self-delusion. Yes, in some years during his service as a House member and now Senator when his voting record is solidly conservative, but his FreedomWorks ratings for 2013, 2014, and 2014 dipped from a general run of 100 percent ratings, peppered by occasional dips into the high 90s, to 85, 77 and 79 percent, respectively. There was his vote for Loretta Lynch. There was his support for normalizing relations with Cuba.
An argument he makes in the course of his book and article is a classic case study in Reasonable Gentleman Syndrome:
Dole, Baker and Lugar? Oh, please. Who is he expecting to buy that?There was a time when the leadership of the Congress from both parties felt an institutional loyalty that would frequently create bonds across party lines in defense of congressional prerogatives in a unified front against the White House, regardless of the president’s party. We do not have to go very far back to identify these exemplars—the Bob Doles and Howard Bakers and Richard Lugars of the Senate. Vigorous partisans, yes, but even more important, principled constitutional conservatives whose primary interest was in governing and making America truly great.
Well, given his RGS affliction, perhaps his "friends across the aisle."
If so, he is on a fool's errand.
Jim Geraghty at NRO shows that the position Flake has eked out for himself was insufficient for the New York Times to confer its imprimatur:
The New York Times reviews a new book from Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona that rips Trump, and offers an incoherent criticism along the way:
But Flake has also cast most of his votes in favor of Trump’s policies. Just last week, he voted for the bill to repeal Obamacare without replacing it, and then he voted for the hastily assembled “skinny repeal.” On that point, he seems to be at odds with his book, in which he specifically cautions Republicans against engineering a sloppy repeal of Obamacare behind closed doors. “Legislation executed without hearings and written by only one side is always a bad idea, regardless of who does it,” he writes. The primary intellectual failing of “Conscience of a Conservative” is that it doesn’t untangle the dysfunction in Washington from the dysfunction of his own party. Republicans haven’t just embraced Trump’s nativism and politics of resentment because it’s politically expedient. Many Republicans have peddled anti-immigrant sentiment for years, and a return to Goldwater’s principles probably wouldn’t remedy that; the rejection of free trade agreements also has complex roots.
But Flake doesn’t like Obamacare and the current rickety pileup of broken promises that make up our health insurance system. Why does it undermine his criticism of Trump to vote to get rid of the status quo? And don’t think we didn’t notice that casual use of “anti-immigrant sentiment” to label opposition to illegal immigration, Times editors.Noah Rothman at Commentary exposes the flimsiness of similar arguments made in other left-leaning outlets:
I myself run into this in comment threadson this blog: the expectation that I'm on the cusp of some kind of conversion experience. When it doesn't happen, I'm a poisonous force indistinguishable in kind from Trumpists.
It's not hard to see how this comes about. Since leftists willingly refuse to even attempt to understand the three pillars of conservatism on their own terms, it all looks like some kind of "greed" and "bigotry" to them. Which is interesting, because not even Trumpism, let alone conservatism, is problematic due to "greed" or "bigotry." (Not that there is anything problematic about conservatism! The premise of this blog is that it's a solution, not a problem.)
But those former conservatives who, for reasons that look to me a lot like a lack of confidence in Cruz and Rubio, cast their lot with Trump and championed him in print and on broadcast media, are responsible for the ease with which the NYT, Five Thirty-Eight, Mother Jones et al can sow confusion and conflate actual conservatism with the hot mess we're saddled with in the White House.
And then you have a Senator-author whose case for conservatism is glaringly polluted with RGS, thereby making it easy for the Left to claw his entrails out.
You see, Dennis Prager, and, indeed Kurt Schlichter, whom I hate to cite as anything other than an example of a formerly principled and clear-thinking conservative having turned into nothing short of a moral monster, are not wrong that we are in a civil war in post-America. The Left intends to stomp freedom, dignity, material advancement and worship of God into the dust.
But the question is whether Donald Trump is an effective weapon in that war.
He is not.
But neither is Jeff Flake.
It's really not such a fine line we have to walk. It's actually a rather broad path.
The three pillars of conservatism are well-known:
1.) Free-market economics, which begins with the premise that a good or service is worth what buyer and seller agree that it is worth - period. No other party has any business being involved in that agreement - certainly not government.
2.) An understanding that Western civilization has been a unique blessing to humankind. (Judeo-Christian morality, Greco-Roman model of representative democracy, the great scientific and artistic achievements.)
3.) A foreign policy based on what history tells us about human nature. This plays itself out as our allies knowing we have their backs, our adversaries respecting us, and our enemies fearing us.
All that is necessary to do to pry loose this worldview from Trumpism in the public perception is to be unwaveringly driven by it when opining if one is a pundit, or voting, if one is a legislator. And, yes, speaking up about Trump's unfitness falls into that, since he has no clue what those three pillars are all about.
That's how you expose the hollowness of the Left argument that you have to abandon those three pillars to be a legitimate Trump opponent.
But consistency and clarity are key.
You can't go squishy.