Unaware that he was speaking into a live microphone, GOP Senator Jeff Flake on Friday told another Republican that “if we become the party of Roy Moore and Donald Trump, we are toast.” The tape was captured by Arizona TV station ABC 15.
Flake was recorded while speaking to Mesa’s Republican Mayor, John Giles, who replied to Flake’s observation by elaborating on earlier encouragement that Flake run for President.
“You are the guy that could, just for fun – Think how much fun it would be just to be the foil, you know, and point out what an idiot this guy is,” Giles said.
The immediate context leaves it unclear whether Giles is calling Moore or President Trump an “idiot,” but ABC 15 says the comment seemed to be directed at Trump.
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Condemnation of Trump and Moore is little surprise coming from Flake, who announced his retirement from the Senate in a speech that implicitly criticized the President for “indulging or even exalting our worst impulses.” But in that speech, Flake was careful to stop just short of directly condemning Trump either on ethical or political grounds. While Trump has historically low approval ratings, Republicans have been hesitant to criticize him because he continues to poll well with party loyalists.
Flake’s criticism of Moore, though, reflects a broader consensus. Republican leaders have been increasingly vocal in condemning Moore, a Republican candidate for Senate who stands accused of seeking sex with teenagers and juveniles when he was in his early thirties. Moore has defied national GOP calls to step down from his race, but his poll numbers are plummeting. That’s a truly mixed bag for Flake’s establishment allies, making it less likely they’ll be working alongside a man viewed by some as a pedophile, but also potentially handing a badly-needed Senate seat to the Democrats.
Notably, Mesa is in Maricopa County, where Joe Arpaio was Sheriff for 24 years. Arpaio, whose style is comparable to Moore’s, was convicted of criminal contempt in connection with his racially biased treatment of Latinos. President Trump pardoned Arpaio in August, a controversial move that further cemented the President’s commitment to nationalist, rather than conventionally conservative, politics.
That divide, it is clear, continues to deepen within the GOP, potentially weakening the party ahead of next year’s midterm elections.