A Trump critic won’t run again
Sen. Flake faced tough fight from GOP’s Bannon wing
USA TODAY WASHINGTON Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is leaving Congress because the kind of conservatism he champions no longer seems welcome in Steve Bannon’s GOP.
Flake, one of the few senators willing to speak up against President Donald Trump, said Tuesday he would not seek reelection. He was facing a tough primary challenge from Kelli Ward, a populist who had already secured the backing of Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist.
“It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro-immigration has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party,” Flake said on the Senate floor Tuesday, in announcing he would not be seeking another term.
Before being elected to the Senate in 2012, Flake had served six terms in the House where he built a reputation as a crusader against wasteful government spending. He built a reliable conservative voting record, but his criticism of the president had alienated many of Arizona’s far-right voters, the ones most likely to show up for mid-term primaries.
Trump was not timid in punching back at Flake, saying over the summer that he was “weak on borders” and “toxic.”
Flake became a key target of Bannon and his band of anti-establishment allies, who have vowed to put up candidates against any senator — in either party — who was hampering Trump’s agenda.
Bannon, who was a senior adviser to Trump until this summer when he returned to his post as the head of Breitbart News, even flew to Arizona for a campaign rally for Ward last week.
“Today, Steve Bannon and the entire Trump movement added another scalp to his collection,” Andrew Surabian, a senior adviser to the proTrump advocacy organization Great America Alliance, said.