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Possible Trump primary challenger Flake to highlight ‘country over party’ in N.H. speech

  • Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., arrives at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, March 6, 2018. AP

  • Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks during a television interview on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. Flake announced he would not run for re-election in 2018, condemning in a speech aimed at President Donald Trump the "flagrant disregard of truth and decency" that is undermining American democracy. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Manuel Balce Ceneta

  • Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., waits for a subway ride back to the Capitol after he and a bipartisan group of moderate senators met privately on Day 2 of the federal shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

  • Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 28, 2015. AP file



For the Monitor
Monday, March 12, 2018

Sen. Jeff Flake says he’s virtually certain that President Donald Trump will face a GOP primary challenge in the 2020 campaign.

But the Republican from Arizona told the Monitor that he isn’t sure if he’ll be the one to take on the president.

“It’s not in my plans, but I’ve not ruled it out,” Flake said of a possible 2020 run for the White House.

Flake was interviewed in advance of this week’s visit to New Hampshire, which has sparked more speculation that the very vocal Trump critic – who’s retiring from the Senate at the end of this year – is seriously mulling a primary challenge against the president.

Flake is set to speak Friday morning at the latest edition of “Politics and Eggs,” an ongoing series hosted by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College that’s seen as a must-stop for White House hopefuls.

“I got the invitation. I thought it would be a good invitation to accept,” Flake said.

The title of the speech he’ll give at the event is “Country over party,” Flake revealed.

“I’ll talk about where I think the Republican Party needs to be for the future and what we do in the post-Trump era. I do think we will get through this. This fever will cool. People will demand a governing party. A party that can govern, that can make use of the majority that it has,” Flake said.

And he added that he’s “concerned where the country is and this drift away from the rule of law and respect for institutions and American leadership around the world.”

Flake highlighted many of those themes in the book he wrote last year, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle, which many saw as an anti-Trump tome.

Flake served 12 years in the U.S. House before winning election to the Senate in 2012. He said his decision last autumn not to run for re-election was in some ways a painful one.

“I’m not leaving because I’m sour on the institution or the people here. This is a wonderful place,” he said, referring to Arizona. “I’ve enjoyed immensely representing Arizona. That part of it was very tough. I would have liked to have stayed at least another term.”

But it would have come at too high a cost, he said.

“The price for that was to accept some of the president’s positions and condone his behavior, and I couldn’t do that,” Flake said. “That wasn’t a hard choice.”

Flake first ran for Congress as a party outsider and now says he “very much” feels like an outsider once again.

“This is Donald Trump’s party right now. There’s no doubt those who vote in Republican primaries overwhelmingly favor the president and his positions, and I think that’s to the detriment of the party long-term. I’m very concerned about where we’re going,” he said.

Flake predicted that Trump will face a 2020 primary challenge “for no other reason than for somebody to remind Republicans what we used to stand for and what we can be again.

“I’m virtually certain he’ll have a primary challenge, and I would expect maybe an independent challenge as well,” he said.

However, it will be tough sledding for any challenger.

“It’s tough to see the base of the party leaving the president,” he said

Flake’s not the only Republican courting rumors of a primary challenge. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who came in second to Trump in the 2016 New Hampshire GOP presidential primary and never endorsed Trump during the general election, returns to the first-in-the-nation primary state next month.

Kasich, who along with Flake is one of the most outspoken critics of the president, will headline an event at New England College in Henniker. The Monitor was first to report the news of Kasich’s return.

There may be a growing appetite among Granite State voters for a primary challenge. Sixty percent of likely 2020 Republican primary voters said they plan to vote for Trump, according to recent University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll. But some 40 percent indicated they would support someone else or weren’t sure.

And nearly a quarter of Granite State Republicans who were questioned in a recent Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll said they had an unfavorable view of Trump, and 1 in 5 believed the country is on the wrong track.

Flake said he’ll spend his remaining months in the nation’s capital speaking out “on the Senate floor on policy issues as well as the direction the party needs to go.”

“Being a conservative to me is not just being a conservative on policy. It’s temperament and demeanor, and I’ll talk more about that as well,” he added.

As for when he’ll decide on a White House run, he said he’s in nor rush to choose his next move.

“I’ve got time here to consider where the party’s going and where I can be most effective,” he said.