Everyone is asking Jeff Flake if he's going to run for president -- and he isn't saying no

  • Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona keeps getting asked if he’s going to run for president in 2020, possibly as a primary challenger to President Donald Trump.
  • The questions came after Flake both announced his retirement from the Senate following the end of his current term and provided a piercing condemnation of the president and the current state of politics.
  • Flake has not explicitly ruled out the run when asked.

People keep asking GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona if he’s going to run for president in 2020.

And he’s not explicitly saying no.

The questions have come after Flake’s Tuesday announcement that he’s retiring from the Senate after his current term, which expires in early 2019. In announcing his retirement, Flake provided a powerful rebuke of President Donald Trump and his politics during a piercing 17-minute speech from the Senate floor, during which he called the president “reckless, outrageous, and undignified.”

Flake was first asked about a potential 2020 bid by CNN’s Jake Tapper, who interviewed the Arizona Republican shortly after his floor speech. Tapper asked Flake if “somebody in the Republican Party, perhaps you, should challenge the president in 2020?”

“I won’t go there,” Flake said. “That’s a long time away.”

Tapper kept pressing. He said, “So, you’re not — you’re not discounting it?”

“Certainly, I didn’t support the president in the last election, and — but it’s early,” Flake said. “That time will take care of itself.”

Tapper said the answer was “not a denial.”

Flake then discussed the possibility with Chuck Todd on MSNBC. Todd asked Flake, “Should we put [you] on a list of somebody that may think about running for national office some day?”

“I don’t think I’m on anybody’s list,” Flake said.

Todd pressed further, saying he understood but asked, “Should we add you?”

“People with the last name of Flake can only go so far,” Flake said. “Let’s get real.”

On Wednesday morning, Flake was again asked about the prospect of a presidential bid by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. The senator said a bid is not on his “radar screen.”

“That is a long way off,” Flake added, to which Camerota said 2020 “is actually not that long off.”

“Has it crossed your mind?” she asked.

“I’m focused on my work in the Senate,” he responded. “I’ve got another good 14 months.”

Flake added that he hasn’t “entertained that thought for very long.”

The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins wrote Wednesday after speaking with Flake that “maybe, just maybe” he “will get a chance to run for president himself in the not-too-distant future.”

Alex Conant, who was communications director for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, told Business Insider that he had yet to see Flake’s post-speech interviews, but added that he’d be surprised if Flake “tried to primary Trump.”

Reed Galen, deputy campaign manager for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, echoed some of that sentiment, saying the deck would be stacked against Flake as a primary challenger to Trump.

But the Republican strategist added that an independent campaign from the senator could be interesting.

“With his announcement, Senator Flake has closed one political door but potentially opened another,” he told Business Insider in an email. “He would not likely win a primary challenge to President Trump, but given the chaotic and fractured nature of American politics, he could attempt a run as an independent. Despite his long conservative credentials, he might win over some Democrats or center-left independents simply on the weight of his anti-Trump commentary, which is now well and long-established.”

“None of this would be easy, though,” he continued. “Stepping outside the two-party system means leaving behind much of the fundraising and grassroots infrastructure that many candidates take for granted. He would have to qualify for ballot access across the country. He would have to raise significant, though not a billion dollars, funds to operate. He would have to run a non-traditional campaign in which he attempted to turn the normal eight to 12 ‘target state’ presidential race into a true 50-state contest.”

In 2016, Flake shut down the idea of a future presidential bid when asked by Business Insider if he was positioning himself as an anti-Trump 2020 candidate. The interview came at a time when he was still often critical of his party’s then-presumptive nominee.

“… You know somebody with the last name of Flake can only get so far,” he quipped, echoing a remark he later made to Todd on Tuesday. “So, no, no.”

The idea of either a possible primary challenge to Trump or an independent, conservative or center-right 2020 presidential campaign is nothing new. Already, people such as Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich and billionaire businessman Mark Cuban have either been rumoured or have expressed interest in such a campaign.

“I don’t see a constituency for Jeff Flake in presidential politics at this time,” Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist and president of the Potomac Strategy Group, told Business Insider in an email. “There are too many unknowns. It’s not even clear if he would have a base in Arizona.”

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