Republican retirements pile up: Jeff Flake's exit is a win for Steve Bannon

GOP civil war has just claimed another victim — but retirement of Arizona senator could be an opening for Democrats

Published October 24, 2017 4:45PM (EDT)

Mitch McConnell; Donald Trump; Jeff Flake   (AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Michael Reynolds)
Mitch McConnell; Donald Trump; Jeff Flake (AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Michael Reynolds)

In a strong condemnation of President Donald Trump, his administration and the politics the modern Republican party has helped usher into the mainstream, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., announced he would not seek reelection in the 2018 midterms on Tuesday afternoon.

"Mr. President, I rise today to address a matter that has been much on my mind, at a moment when it seems that our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than it is by our values and our principles," Flake began from the floor of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday afternoon.

Flake continued, "It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret, because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics, regret because of the indecency of our discourse, regret because of the coarseness of our leadership, regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our – all of our – complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs."

"We must never regard as 'normal' the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals," he added. "We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country - the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve."

The decision puts an unexpected Senate seat in a traditionally Republican state up for the taking.

The GOP is clinging to its 52-seat majority and certainly not looking to lose a seat to the Democrats. But Flake has been one of a few GOP members of Congress that the president has openly feuded with, so it's very likely that Trump will spin this as a win for him and his base. This could be especially true, considering Flake has performed poorly in recent polls, The Arizona Republic reported.

It's also possible that Flake is scared of running for reelection, out of fear of a contentious primary.

Kelli Ward, the former Arizona state senator who lost a primary bid against Sen. John McCain last year, has emerged as the likely Republican favorite, The Arizona Republic reported.

Ward has been endorsed by former White House chief strategist and prominent "alt-right" leader, Steve Bannon, who is leading an insurgency against establishment Republicans, whom he views as obstructors of Trump's agenda.

Ahead of his decision, Flake said that "there may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party," according to The Arizona Republic.

"Here's the bottom line: The path that I would have to travel to get the Republican nomination is a path I'm not willing to take, and that I can't in good conscience take," Flake added. "It would require me to believe in positions I don't hold on such issues as trade and immigration and it would require me to condone behavior that I cannot condone."

But maybe, just maybe the discord within the Republican establishment and a vacant Senate seat can incentivize the Democrats to try to take advantage, though Arizona will prove to be a difficult state for the party to galvanize.

Here is a full transcript of Flake's announcement.

By Charlie May

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