A Profile in Courage

Andrew Vontzalides, Scarlet Staff

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During the 2016 Republican primary season, frequent criticisms of now-President Donald Trump could be heard from a multitude of factions within the Republican party. As candidate Trump’s rise became all too real for a party that risked falling apart, the actions and policies of Trump were ridiculed and condemned not just by the Democratic Party and moderates, but by large factions of the Republican party as well.

Those in the more traditional moderate wing of the party such as John Kasich and Jeb Bush were extremely critical of a candidate whose actions they saw as not only an affront to basic decency but also to the preservation of the rule of law and liberal democracy.

Constitutional conservatives and those in the party who claimed to be the heir to Barry Goldwater’s ideological legacy also strongly opposed Trump, seeing his rise as the product of a cult of personality absent of true conservatism. Such criticisms of Trump largely came from Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

The only factions within the party that gave strong and unconditional support for candidate Trump were its disaffected and nationalist wings of socially conservative and economically populist voters who had slowly left the Democratic Party since the 1970s.

As Trump became the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, he began consolidating his gains, receiving the support of most but not all of the constitutional conservatives and a significant number of moderates (though to a lesser degree). While there were still strong Republican voices criticizing the president, they were now few and far between since the party had been united by its virtually universal animus towards the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Republican support of President Trump was further consolidated when he became president-elect and many hoped they would see the realization of their conservative principles, even through an imperfect vessel like Trump.

If it wasn’t clear at the time, it is now: the vessel through which conservatives hoped to see the implementation of their policies is an extremely imperfect one, one which cannot, and will not, change. Its imperfection is beyond tolerance — the effect it has had on our national dialogue, political atmosphere, international relations, and rule of law has been so odious it should be apparent to nearly everyone in the governing class that the necessity of the containment and eventual elimination of Trump must transcend ideology.

As candidate Rick Perry once said himself, “he [Trump] is a cancer on conservatism.”

Conservatives and Republicans are doing not only their country but themselves a major disservice by associating with the president. If the Republican Party has any common sense and sense of honor for their conservative ideals, they will end their association with the President of the United States as soon as possible.

So far this has not come anywhere near happening. However, there has been increasing opposition in the ranks of the Republican Party. The latest of example of this shift was an influential and eloquent speech on the floor of the US Senate by Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.

In his speech, he outlined the conservative’s case against Trump and explained why he was not running for reelection.

As Flake said in his Oct. 24 speech, “we must stop pretending that the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.”

Saying that there may no longer be a place for a principled conservative like him in a Republican Party with rising nationalist elements, Flake denounced Trump as a “danger to democracy.”  The immediate effect of the speech was mixed. Immediately the vast majority of mainstream media outlets showered Flake with praise, pointing to his speech as a small ray of hope in the current mire the Republican Party has found itself in. Outside of the center of US politics, reactions were decidedly more mixed.

Many on the right saw it as evidence of Flake being a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and declared victory for sacking a sitting US Senator in favor of his (now favored) conservative challenger. A large portion of those on the left found it to be a continuation of the behavior of many Republicans since Trump’s inauguration of verbally dismissing the President’s erratic actions and focusing solely on the agenda they wish to pass.

However, I would dismiss both claims. Flake’s speech was a rare profile in courage in a Republican Party that has largely fallen silent on Trump’s more illiberal and authoritarian tendencies. Flake’s speech was eloquent and did not mince words: it was a call to action for other Republicans in the Congress to contain the President of the United States.

Further defections by prominent Republicans occurred the same day. Senator Bob Corker said he would not support the reelection of the president, and that history would remember Trump for the debasement of American politics. We must remember our place in history and remember that is it still early in what has been an admittedly chaotic presidency.

Such developments should give us a great hope and optimism, and Senator Jeff Flake should be given immense credit for his speech in the United States Senate.