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What the Devil won't tell you

McSally should heed Flake's warning before seeking his seat

Blind obedience is a steep price to pay for a promotion to Senate

The Era of Ornery Arizona Republicans has for now come to an end and it's a sad state of affairs — especially for one Arizona congresswoman.

Barry Goldwater is in the ground. His successor John McCain, is squarely facing his own mortality. They both defined stark independence and demanded integrity of themselves and if voters didn't like it, they could lump it.

And Jeff Flake just one upped them with a move for the history books. He didn't go out with a bang. He went out with a mushroom cloud. Flake stood on the Senate chamber's blue carpet and told the American people that the president of his own party was a threat to the fabric of the republic and global security.

That right there is a once-in-a-century move and it went a little something like this:

"When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country, and instead of addressing it, goes to look for someone to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops."

Flake's fellow Republican senators have met his blistering attack like absolute weenies. They are neither seconding nor condemning Flake's remarks. He just called a Republican president dangerous. "No comment" is the wimpiest of responses because Trump either is or isn't sabotaging the American experiment with his own cult of personality. They don't get to beg off with: "welllll, define what you mean by the president posing 'an active threat' to America ... I guess it's an eye-of-the-beholder thing ... it depends on your definition of 'to vaporize'  ...."

Excuse my French, but Flake is either full of shit or he's not.

They seem to be saying “yeah, fine, he's making the Oval Office a safe space for despots but, hey, he'll help us shave a couple points off corporate tax rates so we'll go along to get along."

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Well, Flake may have presaged his colleague's sudden desire to go look at that thing over there rather than answer the damn question.

Now, I’m aware that more politically savvy people than I will caution against such talk. I’m aware that there’s a segment of my party that believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect. If I have been critical, it is not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States.

If I have been critical, it is because I believe it is my obligation to do so. And as a matter and duty of conscience, the notion that one should stay silent — and as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters — the notion that we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is a-historic and, I believe, profoundly misguided.

You can have integrity or be a Republican office holder today, but you can't do both, a sitting Republican senator is saying. Being a GOP senatorial candidate, Flake decided, wasn't worth having because it requires – nay, demands – blind obedience to Donald Trump in all his forms and actions.

Are you listening, Martha McSally?

The congresswoman from Tucson has shot to the top of the list of (let's call it) experienced (some would say establishment) candidates who could challenge former state Rep. Kelli Ward in next year's primary. Arizona's House Republican delegation is planning to meet Thursday to discuss who among them might challenge Ward for the party's nomination to replace Flake.

McSally — who's been widely seen as positioning herself for an eventual Senate run — would be immediately hamstrung by the fact that she's not nuts and has proven her ability to win at the federal level. And I define nuts as contouring an entire philosophy around a president who tweet storms foreign policy and calls any news story he doesn't like wholly fabricated.

In the Age of Trump, nothing screams establishment like sanity and competence. So McSally's strengths would be more than weaknesses. They'd be accusations.

Between her and the Senate is Satan's Grocer Steve Bannon, ringing up the cash register and demanding the price of her soul.

The party of freedom and small government quivers with fever supplicating to a proto-authoritarian ruler. Sanity may return but not in time to help McSally.

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No liberal Flake

It's important now to remember that Flake is no moderate the tradition of Jim Jeffords or the Rhode Island Chafees.

I first started seeing Flake's name back in the 1990s, when he was executive director of the Goldwater Institute, which pushes free markets and small government. He hasn't changed.

Flake favors free markets and free trade is a part of that. Free trade doesn't just allow the movement of goods and capital across borders. It also allows for the flow of labor, so he championed immigration reform as a testament to those markets.

When it came to Cuba, Flake has sought to weaponize Milton Friedman. He didn't believe the Castro regime could survive exposure to the capitalism and freedom imported from the mainland just 90 miles away. So he sought normalization of relations with Cuba.

He's got a 93 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union and a 100 percent rating from Freedom Works this year.

McSally rates at 67 percent and 63 percent in those two measurements respectively and the Bannon crowd has already decided Flake is beyond the outer limits of acceptable. She's fessed up that she thinks climate change is real and opposes mass deportation.

And remember when she called her party racist? No? That's because she didn't. But the Republican base doesn't believe in fact checkers. So who is she going to complain to when some Ward SuperPAC turns this 2015 passage in an Elle Magazine profile of McSally into a 30-second spot:

"McSally (can) make a crack about her colleagues' rush to demonize Syrian refugees desperate to escape civil war and anarchy: 'Leave it to our guys to find the angle that makes us look the most racist.'"

The journalist meant to compliment McSally for having a "thoughtful and nuanced sensibility and a deeply pragmatic streak." Nothing says RINO like the adjectives, "thoughtful," "nuanced," or "pragmatic." Put 'em all together and they are the three fingers of death in 2017 Republican politics, and far worse than feeding conspiracy fantasies about chemtrails.

The base has shown no interest in nuance beyond applause lines to complex issues. Nuance? Detail? Thoughtfulness? Which sounds more like a Republican remedy? A long discussion about the ins and outs of immigration? Or Ward proclaiming: "mix the mortar to fix the border?"

Father Knows Best

I actually do have hope that this fever will break, simply because I've seen little correlation between human decency and political leanings (Left, attack … now). They are probably feeling thrown into a defensive posture. It's worthwhile for the media to hold Trump to a presidential standard. It's kinda nuts to expect the GOP to abandon the president they just elected just nine months into his first term.

But right now, the Republican Party insists that its representation in Washington embody all that is Trump and jettison all that is not.

So empathy and compassion are the twin fists of political correctness. The world doesn't need the wisdom of diplomacy, it needs the the swift back hand of America's military might. Toughness is the new smart. Wisdom is the old weak. Racism is a lie minorities invent to steal from whites. The country is a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Inc. and daddy knows best. Anyone who says anything different are enemies of the American people.

Trump can lie all he wants because he's just lying to the liberals, the media, the Muslims, African Americans, Puerto Ricans, moderates and the poor. Character only counts with the Clintons.

The strategy can work if Trump were riding a wave of popularity but he's not proving himself particularly good at his job. The U.S. takes Raqqa and throw ISIS out of their stronghold but he'd rather talk pick a fight with Gold Star family. He can afford to lose just two senate votes to get a tax cut approved and he choose to kneecap all the swing voters and turn obvious allies tax-slashing allies like Flake into adversaries like McCain. He can't condemn Nazis without swallowing his tongue. He knew the system so well only he could fix it but seems bewildered by the levers of power. He hurls insults freely but can't take a punch. He seems to insist the presidency serve his ego, rather than humbling himself to the gravity of the office he holds.

Fake polls

Incompetence undermines Trump's numbers, even right here in Arizona.

The most recent polling in Arizona is two months old but nationally his numbers are practically identical in both Gallup and Rasmussen daily tracking polls. HighGround Public Affairs Consulting, a Republican political firm out of Phoenix, conducted the statewide survey that found Trump's approval at 42 percent. He was popular among Republicans with 74 percent but sputtered along with 33 percent approval from unaffiliated voters and 27 percent support among independents.

HighGround founder Chuck Coughlin described Trump's position in Arizona as “not a sustainable general election coalition.” Ya think?

So let's circle back to McSally. She wants to tie her fortunes to this air frame? The former fighter pilot must know Trump Air repeatedly "departs controlled flight."

Say she emerges victorious from a primary against Ward, having spray-painted herself orange and proudly wearing her MAGA hat. U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the likely Democratic candidate, will punch McSally in the mouth with Trump's terrible numbers.

What would she be winning next November? Flake is telling the American people that Republicans can't serve their country without serving Trump, dutifully, faithfully and totally. Is that the job you want, Congresswoman?

Plus, I don't think McSally's mouth will let her hold that character for long.

Wishes and ponies

Who doesn't get the appeal of the next step up the ladder? McSally would get a cool Senate office, she'd only have to run every six years and wouldn't get some breathing room when it comes to fundraising. It's, perhaps, there for the taking at some point in a post-Trump world.

I can't see her making the jump after bending over backwards to try to prove she serves her district. To move to the upper chamber, she would be expected to serve a president and not the people of Arizona.

A lot can change in a year. Trump could change his ways, act presidential and get down to the serious business of the job he won. I could run across a magic flying pony made of sparkles and happiness who grants me three wishes.

Face it, Trump is historically unpopular because voters who want more than rage see him as unpresidential, unprofessional and utterly inept. At least he demands total loyalty because it's all about him and for now, the Republican base says "A-men"

I don't care how nifty the suites are in the Hart Senate Office Building. McSally should think carefully about whether thoughtful pragmatism — with a dash of nuance — are qualities worth jettisoning in this time of fever.

Blake Morlock is a journalist who has spent 17 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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Joshua Pearson/TucsonSentinel.com

McSally on election night 2014.

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