Top Republican senator says his party is in 'denial' about Trump

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona wrote that his party is in "denial" about President Donald Trump in a column in Politico on Monday.

Flake, who is up for reelection in 2018 and is one of the more vulnerable GOP senators in the upcoming election, held little back in the Politico op-ed, describing an executive branch "in chaos" and a president who has "seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians."

The Arizona Republican also took issue with his party's mission while President Barack Obama was in office.

"Who could blame the people who felt abandoned and ignored by the major parties for reaching in despair for a candidate who offered oversimplified answers to infinitely complex questions and managed to entertain them in the process," he wrote. "With hindsight, it is clear that we all but ensured the rise of Donald Trump."

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Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) questions Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) talks to reporters as he arrives for a Senate health care vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) laughs with fellow subcommittee member Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) (L) at the Senate Foreign Relations' Western Hemisphere Subcommittee hearing on President Barack Obama's changes to Cuba policy in Washington February 3, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 19: (AFP OUT) Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) (L) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) (R) attend a lunch with members of Congress hosted by US President Donald J. Trump (not pictured) in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)
MESA, AZ - APRIL 13: U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks at a town hall event at the Mesa Convention Center on April 13, 2017 in Mesa, Arizona. It was the first such event this year for Flake, who is up for re-election in 2018, as Republican lawmakers across the country have been confronted with angry voters in similar settings. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 25: Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., right, and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., conduct a news conference in the Capitol to introduce an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban on May 25, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MESA, AZ - APRIL 13: U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks at a town hall event as critics show their displeasure at the Mesa Convention Center on April 13, 2017 in Mesa, Arizona. It was the first such event this year for Flake, who is up for re-election in 2018, as Republican lawmakers across the country have been confronted with angry voters in similar settings. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 9: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks with reporters after a vote at the U.S. Capitol, May 9, 2016, in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats defeated a procedural vote on an energy bill, which increases funding for the Department of Energy and Army Corps of Engineers. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 25 - Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., checks out Adaeze, a one and a half year old Cheetah, from the Leo Zoo, in Greenwich, Ct., along with Marcella Leone, from the Leo Zoo, middle, and Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of Cheetah Conservation Fund, in Nambia, left, following a briefing on 'Combating Threats to the Cheetah, Africa's Most Endangered Big Cat, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Monday, April 25, 2016. The briefing, led by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Sen. Flake, comes as the Senate prepares to consider legislation on the 'destructive practice of wildlife poaching and trafficking.' Joining Adaeze on the table is Odie, a Australian Shepherd. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
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"I will let the liberals answer for their own sins in this regard. (There are many.) But we conservatives mocked Barack Obama's failure to deliver on his pledge to change the tone in Washington even as we worked to assist with that failure," he continued. "It was we conservatives who, upon Obama's election, stated that our number-one priority was not advancing a conservative policy agenda but making Obama a one-term president — the corollary to this binary thinking being that his failure would be our success and the fortunes of the citizenry would presumably be sorted out in the meantime."

He said conservatives were "largely silent when the most egregious and sustained attacks on Obama's legitimacy were leveled by marginal figures who would later be embraced and legitimized by far too many of us."

"It was we conservatives who rightly and robustly asserted our constitutional prerogatives as a coequal branch of government when a Democrat was in the White House but who, despite solemn vows to do the same in the event of a Trump presidency, have maintained an unnerving silence as instability has ensued," he continued. "To carry on in the spring of 2017 as if what was happening was anything approaching normalcy required a determined suspension of critical faculties. And tremendous powers of denial."

Dating back to the presidential campaign, Flake has been one of Trump's most vocal critics among Republican senators. He wrote that he's been "sympathetic to this impulse to denial" that he earlier mentioned. But he added that the Constitution does not provide much of an ability for others in government to "do something about an executive branch in chaos."

"There was a time when the leadership of the Congress from both parties felt an institutional loyalty that would frequently create bonds across party lines in defense of congressional prerogatives in a unified front against the White House, regardless of the president's party," he wrote. "We do not have to go very far back to identify these exemplars — the Bob Doles and Howard Bakers and Richard Lugars of the Senate. Vigorous partisans, yes, but even more importantly, principled constitutional conservatives whose primary interest was in governing and making America truly great."

Flake ended his piece by providing three suggestions for his party.

"First, we shouldn't hesitate to speak out if the president 'plays to the base' in ways that damage the Republican Party's ability to grow and speak to a larger audience," he wrote. "Second, Republicans need to take the long view when it comes to issues like free trade: Populist and protectionist policies might play well in the short term, put they handicap the country in the long term. Third, Republicans need to stand up for institutions and prerogatives, like the Senate filibuster, that have served us well for more than two centuries."

Read Flake's full commentary in Politico>

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