The Cowardice of a ‘Conservative’

The long descent of Arizona Republicans from Barry Goldwater to Jeff Flake is in many ways the story of the decline of the modern conservative movement.

As Tucker Carlson noted after watching Flake’s sad capitulation to Democrats’ preposterous demands for an FBI investigation of Brett Kavanaugh: “In Washington, when they congratulate you on leaving the partisan circus, chances are you are now the ringmaster of the partisan circus.”

But Flake’s failure is not just an individual one. It is representative of the failure of large portions of the conservative movement to adapt to the reality of Democrats’ no-holds barred tactics. Those tactics are not new, of course. The GOP’s insistence on having mild-mannered gentlemen as its  standard bearers, however, has allowed the Democrats to hide their fundamental substantive and tactical radicalism in plain sight.

Mitt Romney and the Bushes (both senior and junior) were sincere old-school patricians who acted according to a moral code the Democrats had long since discarded. John McCain had a bit of street-fighter in him, but he used it only to fight conservatives and win the plaudits of liberals. One would have to go back to Ronald Reagan to find a GOP leader who challenged the power of liberalism without apology.

And then along came Donald Trump, who, whatever his personal and political deviations from the tenets of “movement conservatism,” at least recognized who his enemies were. If they punched him, he would punch back twice as hard. After decades of watching gentlemen absorb punches and give up the fight, this was why so many GOP voters supported him. Unfortunately, he inherited a party apparatus that largely insisted in playing by the old Democrat-fixed rules—which meant being the hapless Washington Generals to the Democrats Harlem Globetrotters.

The understandable rage of the GOP base at Kavanaugh’s treatment eventually stiffened the spines of Senate Republicans, but not before lasting damage had already been done. The Democrats’ vetting of Kavanaugh signaled bad faith from the beginning, a hysterical campaign of character assassination that saw numerous interruptions of hearings, grandstanding by future Democratic presidential candidates, even charges that a Mexican-American woman of partial Jewish descent who was running Kavanaugh’s nomination was a secret neo-Nazi. And in case you are scoring at home, what do you really think the odds are that the party that honored and revered Ted Kennedy (“waitress sandwich,” Chappaquiddick) and Bill Clinton really cares about sexual assault?

No tactic is too low for Democrats to embrace. As a result of the GOP’s weak response, future conservative luminaries understandably will be reluctant to volunteer for service if it requires Senate confirmation. A stronger and more confident GOP would have shut down the hearings immediately when the disruptions and grandstanding began and moved directly to a vote. The Democrats would have howled, of course, but it seems like they are doing that pretty well anyway.

Because we are not omniscient, we can’t prove for certain that Brett Kavanaugh is not a serial sexual assaulter. Nor can we say for certain whether Christine Blasey Ford is is delusional, lying, or being truthful (though it would be nice if we had access to her social media posts, which she scrubbed before going public with her claims). But we do know there are numerous and substantial inconsistencies in Ford’s story, which is more than three decades old and has no meaningful corroboration. Neither does her story have any parallel at all in Kavanaugh’s entire adult professional career (despite the desperate attempts of Democrats to find one).

We do know that Ford’s name and allegations were leaked to the media at the last minute by a partisan Democrat (most likely in Dianne Feinstein’s office), presumably without Ford’s permission, and withheld from Republicans on the committee precisely because the Left had absolutely no interest in a fair investigation of those charges—they only wanted to defeat Kavanaugh by any means necessary.

As I’ve written elsewhere,  “Politically and substantively, this should be the bottom line for the GOP on Judge Kavanaugh: Extraordinary claims made with extraordinary timing and having extraordinary consequences require extraordinary evidence. And that’s not what we have here, not even close. Barring an absolutely stunning near-term revelation of new facts, Republicans should move to confirm Judge Kavanaugh on schedule and without apology.”

Any Republican with just the tiniest amount of common sense would understand the Democrats’ obstruction strategy and the dangers of giving in to it. Even establishment squishes like Chuck Grassley and John Cornyn (who said, “I can’t think of a more embarrassing scandal for the United States Senate since the McCarthy hearings,”) and, most stunningly, Lindsey Graham, long a bane of conservatives, got it. Graham stunningly rose to the occasion with a four-minute evisceration of the Democrats unethical tactics.

“To my Republican colleagues,” Graham said, staring at Flake, “if you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.” If that kind of statement from “Mr. Bipartisan” Graham couldn’t knock sense into Flake (and Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, who have gotten a pass from conservatives here they don’t deserve) then they are long past saving.

Because of Flake’s cowardice, all future GOP officials taking controversial votes are at risk of becoming victims of the Left’s continual campaign of mob intimidation, harassment, and violence. Flake has shown the Democrats that mobocracy works. Shooting Republicans, beating up Republicans in the street, screaming at Republicans in elevators, chasing Republicans from restaurants. All of these have become “normalized,” to use the Left’s favorite term, in the wake of Trump’s election. There is nothing bipartisan or courageous about giving into the mob, abandoning your party, and soaking in the plaudits of the pundits along the way.

Sadly, Flake—who once headed the libertarian Goldwater Institute and had a strongly conservative voting record in the House before moving left as a Senator—has shown just how badly the thing people are pleased to call the “conservative movement” has failed to adapt to the reality that they face a totalitarian enemy in what passes as modern liberalism.

This wing of movement conservatives, dominated by NeverTrumpers such as Flake, has chosen to retreat into the comfortable womb of treating conservatism as a philosophical abstraction rather than dealing the messy realities of actual politics in which the options are often imperfect. The decline of Jeff Flake shows that NeverTrump corrupts and absolute NeverTrump corrupts absolutely.

Flake’s recent book was called Conscience of a Conservative—an homage to a book of the same title by his fellow Arizonan, Barry Goldwater, who in many ways the father of the modern conservative movement. But Flake isn’t a worthy successor to Goldwater. In fact, he’s a successor to Goldwater’s mortal enemies, the Rockefeller Republicans—moderates in love with being the “respectable” opposition who sold conservative values down the river to gain the approval of the liberal establishment which, then as now, dominated our media and other elite institutions.

A reporter watching Goldwater’s convention speech in 1964 saw the candidate’s unabashed display of uncompromising conservatism and exclaimed: “My God, he’s going to run as Barry Goldwater!”

A reporter watching a similar display from Arizona’s lame duck senator last week, as he fled from screaming female activists in the pay of George Soros, might have said, “My God, he’s going to run away as Jeff Flake.”

NeverTrump conservatives may think they have found a new Gold(water) standard in the Arizona senator—but any nuggets of conservatism in him have been washed away by the flood tide of liberalism and cowardice.

And all we’re left with is a small and pathetic Flake.

Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

About Jeremy Carl

Jeremy Carl is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he focuses on energy policy, U.S. politics, and immigration reform.

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