Shortly after he delivered an impassioned speech on the floor of the Senate Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) joined CNN’s Jake Tapper for his first interview since announcing he will not be seeking reelection in 2018.
And while much of the discussion covered the same Trump critiques that filled his address, there was an illuminating moment when Tapper raised some potential criticism of Flake.
Tapper acknowledged that Flake was not exactly a strong supporter of Trump’s during the election last year, but at the same time his fiery rhetoric against the president of his own party seemed to come out of nowhere this week.
“There are, not just Democrats and independents out there who are not fans of the president, but also Republicans, they call themselves ‘Never Trump’ Republicans, who are critical of people such as yourself, Senator Corker, et cetera,” Tapper remarked, “for arriving at this conclusion today when to them the tweets and the aberrant behavior was evident back in 2015 if not before that.”
Flake told the CNN anchor that he was initially “troubled” by Trump years ago when he started to push his birtherism claims about President Barack Obama. “I thought that that was an ugly conspiracy theory to foist on our previous president,” Flake said. “And that was very unbecoming of anybody to put that forward.”
“I just never warmed to him,” the senator continued. “I never considered myself a ‘Never Trumper.’ I hoped that he would come around and make that pivot, but I could just never get there given the statements that he continued to make and continues to make.”
Later in the interview, Flake cautiously kept the door open to challenging Trump in a 2020 primary. “I won't go there. That's a long time away,” he said. “Certainly I didn't support the president in the last election, but it's early. That time will take care of itself.”
When Tapper pointed out that “that's not a denial,” Flake added, “I can just say, I didn't support him last time. I did not vote for the president. And nothing that he's done has earned my support since that time or made me more likely to vote for him, you know, in the second run. So that's all I'll say.”
Asked “how does this end for President Trump?” Flake said, “I do think we are reaching a point where more people are willing to stand up. So, no, I don't think that this could continue for that long. At some point the country will say that's enough. We've had enough of this kind of behavior and we expect more of our leaders. So that's what I hope happens, sooner rather than later.”