- President Donald Trump said he originally thought Republican Sen. Jeff Flake was a Democrat after watching him on TV.
- Trump was discussing Flake after the senator provided a powerful rebuke of the president from the Senate floor on Tuesday.
- Flake announced that he would not seek reelection in 2018.
President Donald Trump went on an extended rant aimed at Republican Sen. Jeff Flake on Wednesday, saying that when he first saw the senator on TV he assumed “he was a Democrat.”
“He was against me from before he ever knew me,” Trump told reporters assembled on the White House lawn as he was about to board Marine One. “He wrote a book about me before I ever met him, before I ever heard his name. His poll numbers in Arizona are so low that he couldn’t win.”
The book Trump is mentioning, “Conscience of a Conservative,” was published this summer, as Flake was providing one of his most forceful rebukes of the president. Flake announced Tuesday that he would not seek reelection in 2018, subsequently blasting the president and his politics in a speech on the Senate floor.
Trump said Wednesday that he does not “blame” Flake “for leaving,” adding that he thinks Flake “did the right thing for himself.”
“But if you know, long before he ever knew me, during the campaign, even before the campaign, I mean, he came out with this horrible book and I said who is this guy?” Trump said of Flake, who has been critical of the president for much of the past two years, dating back to the campaign.
“In fact, I remember the first time I saw him on television — nobody really knew me in terms of politics — but the first time I saw him on television I said ‘I assume he’s a Democrat? Is he a Democrat?’ They said, ‘No, he’s a Republican.’ I said, ‘That’s impossible.'”
He continued blasting Flake’s “terrible” poll numbers, which show him trailing his main GOP primary challenger.
“He’s done terribly for the great people of Arizona, a state that likes Donald Trump very much, as you, even you will admit,” Trump said, adding that he’s “way down in the primary.”
“So he did the smart thing for himself so he can get out somewhat gracefully,” Trump said.
But Trump believes that Flake, one of the Senate’s most conservative members, will vote to pass the tax reform package the president is hoping to push through.
Asked about some of Flake’s pointed comments from the Senate floor on Tuesday, Trump said Flake is “saying that because he has nothing else to say.”
In that 17-minute speech, Flake called the president “reckless, outrageous, and undignified.”
“I rise today with no small measure of regret,” he said. “Regret because of the state of our disunion. Regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the core regret because of the coarseness of our leadership. Regret for the compromise of our moral authority.
“And by our, I mean all of our complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs,” he continued. “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”
Flake also called on Americans not to regard what is happening in the Trump administration as “normal.”
“We must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue with the tone set at the top,” he said. “We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve. None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal.”
The president initially responded to Flake’s comments in Wednesday morning tweets, which also targeted Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, a fellow retiring senator who has criticised Trump extensively in recent weeks.
“The reason Flake and Corker dropped out of the Senate race is very simple, they had zero chance of being elected. Now act so hurt & wounded!” Trump tweeted.
“Jeff Flake, with an 18% approval rating in Arizona, said ‘a lot of my colleagues have spoken out.’ Really, they just gave me a standing O!” Trump said in a subsequent tweet, mentioning his lunch meeting with Senate Republicans on Tuesday.
In a Washington Post op-ed published Tuesday night, Flake wrote that for “the next 14 months, relieved of the strictures of politics, I will be guided only by the dictates of conscience.”
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