Senator Jeff Flake

Alan Zendell, September 29, 2018

Opinions abound concerning Senator Jeff Flake’s (R, Arizona) motivations. Yesterday, he forced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky) to allow a one-week delay in the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to fill the Supreme Court seat currently held by Anthony Kennedy.

Women’s rights activists criticize him because despite making speeches about Donald Trump’s lack of respect for truth and what Flake considers the president’s generally immoral behavior, he votes with Trump 95% of the time. Trump supporters call Flake a disgruntled lame duck Senator who was rightly forced to give up his seat by the president he attacked, while many Conservatives and Independents who dislike Trump view Flake as an honest man whose conservative principles and Mormon values guide his decisions.

In August 2017 I posted an article titled Conservative Values. I had read Senator Flake’s book, The Conscience of a Conservative, and came away from it with a revelation of sorts. It was no coincidence that he named his book after one written by Barry Goldwater almost sixty years earlier. Flake wears the mantle of a latter day Goldwater, even having served as the Executive Director of the Goldwater Institute.

I never expected to find common ground with his values, but politics aside, I was in complete agreement with Flake’s governing principles. I found his book honest and sincere, the work of a man who believes in bipartisanism and integrity in government. I disagreed with the way he voted most of the time, but never with his conduct as a Senator.

Flake was inclined to support Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination based on his writings and decisions, which seemed to be aligned with his own ideology. But he strongly opposed the hyper-partisanship of Mitch McConnell and the other Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee, and said that confirming a Justice that way denigrated the integrity of the Court and undermined the confidence of everyday Americans.

I was watching the hearings when the Committee voted 11-10 along party lines to move Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. Chris Coons (D, Delaware) had just completed a speech imploring his colleagues to wait until the FBI could investigate the allegations against Kavanaugh. He’d spoken softly and compellingly, but Chairman Grassley forged ahead with the vote, during which Flake, to the dismay of millions, voted with the majority.

After the vote, while Grassley was preparing to adjourn, Senator Flake quietly left his seat, walked behind the Chairman, and tapped Senator Coons on the shoulder, after which they left the  room together. The torment on Flake’s face and the body language of the two men made it clear that something unexpected was about to occur.

Flake had decided to cross the aisle and force the majority to compromise. He wasn’t convinced Kavanaugh was innocent of the charges leveled against him and he felt the harm the divisiveness was doing to the country. He understood that it was important for the nation to accept Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and that that could only happen if the Senate ceased its attempts to force it through under a cloud of doubt and partisanship.

The subsequent confrontation between Flake and two women activists in an elevator has been seen by everyone who is not in a coma. Flake appeared devastated by it. If he still harbored doubts about his decision, that encounter silenced them, and he issued his ultimatum to his party’s leadership. Say what you will about his lame duck status. Flake’s action was exactly what the country needed. If there was ever a perfect example of putting the nation ahead of politics, that was it.

Will an FBI investigation change the outcome? Given the vagaries of memory and the thirty-six years that have elapsed since the alleged assault on Professor Ford, I doubt that anything conclusive will be found no matter how thoroughly the FBI does its job, but the facts will be out in the open.

I absolutely believed Professor Ford’s testimony, but it’s possible that they were both telling the truth as they remembered it. If Kavanaugh was as drunk as Ford claimed, he might well not recall the incident, but whether or not we ever know for sure what really happened in that room, we’re learning other things. We saw the raw hatred and rage Kavanaugh feels toward Democrats, which raises questions about whether he can ever be an apolitical Justice.

It’s clear that he misrepresented the choir boy image of himself during his high school and college years, and we’re already learning more about who Judge Kavanaugh really is as people who know him come forward to testify. Confirmed or not, the country will know who he is when the process concludes.

We can thank Senator Flake for that. The country desperately needed someone to step up yesterday, and Flake did. I’m going to miss his voice in the Senate.

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