'Not what I'd call a Republican': Prominent GOP Trump critic explains why it's important to push back on his party's nominee

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake has been a frequent critic of Donald Trump during the months since the Manhattan billionaire clinched the Republican Party’s nomination.

He told Business Insider in a Wednesday interview that he thinks “it’s important for some of us to push back here,” particularly as Trump puts the nation’s trade deals in his crosshairs.

“Trump is continuing on trade, talking about economic independence, which is no more than a code word for ‘Fortress America,'” he said. “Anybody who believes that we’re going to grow economically and deal with the huge fiscal problems that we have from shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world is just certainly not what I’d call a Republican.”

“I mean we believe in free trade,” he continued. “We still do. NAFTA is not a dirty word.”

He said free trade agreements have helped both the US and fellow countries involved in the deals.

In a speech earlier this week, Trump called for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to promise to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a historic trade agreement that she has distanced herself from in recent months. He also threatened to leave the NAFTA agreement. Both Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have railed on TPP and trade along the campaign trail.

“Free trade helps us all,” he continued. “In an election campaign it’s hard to explain in 30 seconds, but we ought to try.”

Flake previously pressed Trump to change the tone of his campaign, particularly as Trump was reinvigorating his support for barring Muslim immigration into the US. He was also critical of the Manhattan billionaire when he attacked a federal judge based on his Mexican heritage.

The Arizona Republican said the recent Brexit vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union — a vote that was won on a very similar anti-immigration and anti-trade message promoted by Trump — is not a sign that Trump can win without changing things up.

Trump celebrated the vote as a victory for his message during a Friday press conference from his Turnberry golf course in Scotland.

“No, no,” he said. “I do know there are a lot of people dissatisfied with the status quo and with current politicians. I think that was reflected in the Brexit vote.”

“Mr. Trump’s problem is not just being dissatisfied with the status quo,” he continued. “It’s that he’s gone out and gone after specific groups and organisations. The Mexican judge comments. The Muslim ban although he seems to be backing off of that. It’s just the general statements on too many groups he’s going to need to win an election. So I think he’s still got to change quite a bit.”

Trump has backed off his proposed barring of all Muslims in recent days, now claiming it is not religious-based and it will be from areas deemed hot-spots for terroristic activity. But his position is still not entirely clear.

Flake said he hopes he continues to walk back “the Muslim ban,” but he isn’t sure that’s the path Trump will follow.

“We just don’t know sometimes he’ll walk something back one day and be back with the original policy the next,” he said. “So we’ll see what holds. He’s 70 years old, and it’s tough to change. He’s made many statements about how he won the primary and why change it. He may, for a time, use more appropriate rhetoric or statements, but I just don’t know if that can last. I really don’t.”

Asked if his frequent criticism of Trump is part of a plan to position himself as an anti-Trump GOP presidential hopeful in the 2020 election, he said it was not. But, he did mention that he has a reelection bid upcoming for his Senate seat in 2018.

“No, I have to run for reelection two years from now, and you know somebody with the last name of Flake can only get so far,” he quipped. “So, no, no.”

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