Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., says a primary challenge in 2020 to President Trump isn’t off the table.
“That’s not in my plans, but I don’t rule anything out,” the frequent Trump critic told NPR’s Robert Siegel in an interview airing Thursday on All Things Considered.
“I do think he will have a challenge. Most certainly there will be an independent challenge,” Flake predicted. “If you have Donald Trump, if he still can manage to carry his base, as he calls it, that could be and should be enough to get him renominated, but it certainly won’t be enough to get him re-elected.”
Asked whether Trump could face some kind of mass uprising within the party ranks during the 2020 nominating process, Flake said he wasn’t convinced the president is necessarily going to run again. Trump’s approval ratings have hit record lows in his first year, and multiple reports have described how frustrated and unhappy the president is by the confines of his office.
“Well, we’re assuming he is running for re-election,” the Arizona senator said. “I don’t think that’s a safe assumption. He may not. I’m not among those who think that he’s going to be impeached or removed from office, but I am among those who question whether or not he’ll give it a go the next time around.”
“But if he does, I do think he’ll have a challenge within the Republican Party,” Flake continued. “I’m not sure that challenge will succeed, but it may be time for an independent — particularly if the Democratic Party continues to go further to the left. There is a huge swath of voters I think in the middle that are going to be looking for something else.”
Flake announced last year that he wasn’t running for re-election after facing a tough primary challenge from a candidate who has criticized him for not being behind Trump enough. Trump has also lashed out at Flake, calling him “toxic” and “weak” on border security.
Flake has indeed not been shy in sharing his deep concerns about the president. He wrote a book, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle, in which he decried his fellow Republicans for making a “Faustian bargain” in nominating Trump while abandoning many core conservative principles like free trade and glossing over his controversial stands like birtherism and racial dog whistles to send messages to .
When Flake announced his retirement, he gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, lamenting that, “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks; the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions; the flagrant disregard for truth or 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 all been elected to serve. None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal.”
Flake also said at that time that he would be making a series of speeches about the critical importance of facts and truth to American democracy — something Flake and many others say Trump and his White House often flout.
The Arizona Republican’s Senate term runs through the end of this year.