Jeff Flake: Conservatives better off with Biden than Trump

Former senator from Arizona headlined list of 27 former lawmakers backing Biden

Former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., has endorsed Joe Biden for president. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., has endorsed Joe Biden for president. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 24, 2020 at 2:36pm

Former Sen. Jeff Flake on Monday offered fellow disaffected Republicans a reason to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden over President Donald Trump: that it’s the only viable path for conservatism to survive.

“Ask yourself, will we be in a better position to make the conservative case for governing after four more years of this administration?” the Arizona Republican said in a video message that was part of the rollout of Republicans for Biden on the first day of the Republican National Convention. “I think we all know the answer to that,” he said in announcing he would vote for Biden.

Flake was the headline name on the list of former Republican lawmakers that comprised a wide swath of the GOP, from elected party stalwarts like Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia and Rep. Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma to Charles Djou of Hawaii, who briefly served in Congress.

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has cited Djou’s 2010 special election victory and the subsequent GOP takeover of the House majority as a parallel for 2020. (Djou did not win reelection to a full term in 2010, even while the GOP picked up more than 60 seats on its way to retaking the majority that year.)

Warner, the Virginia Republican and former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, endorsed Biden at the beginning of March. He also backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election against Trump.

Flake was among the Republicans who were disillusioned enough with Trump to vote for a third party candidate in protest in 2016, but his message Monday was that would not be enough this time for like-minded members of the GOP.

“It’s not enough just to register our disapproval of the president. We need to elect someone else in his place,” Flake said. “Someone who will stop the chaos and reverse the damage.”

Flake cited the president’s view of expanded executive power and disregard for the constitutional separation of powers.

“Those of us of a certain age in this country have also had the rare good fortune of growing up and into adulthood not having to think too much about the consequences of our votes, or even whether we voted at all in a given election,” he said. “These times prove the folly of taking anything for granted.”

The former GOP House members backing Biden include everyone from Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania to Ray LaHood of Illinois, the father of current Rep. Darin LaHood and a former Transportation secretary under President Barack Obama.

Djou, who has departed from the Republican Party under Trump, has offered one of the most biting criticisms of anyone of the list.

“Like President Trump, I also graduated from Penn’s Wharton School. While President Trump uses his Wharton degree to tout how he is ‘like, really smart,’ he seems to have forgotten (or never learned) much of the basic lessons on how the American economy functions,” Djou wrote in an opinion piece last week for The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s student newspaper.

The endorsements from former Republican members of Congress included other prominent names like Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Susan Molinari of New York, the latter of whom spoke in support of Biden at last week’s Democratic National Convention.

“I’ve known Donald Trump for most of my political career,” Molinari said last week. “So disappointing, and lately so disturbing.”

Like many of the other names on the list, Molinari has worked as a lobbyist or elsewhere in the government affairs business.

While many of the 27 names on the list circulated by the Biden campaign hail from blue states, had more moderate voting records or, like LaHood, were connected to the Obama-Biden administration, some are old-line conservatives.

Former Rep. Mike Parker of Mississippi was among the old conservative Southern Democrats who switched to the Republican Party after the GOP took the House majority in 1995.

Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been the biggest Republican name to endorse Biden for president thus far, but it is Flake’s warning that has been perhaps the most dire.

“For our entire lives, through some very fractious political periods, we have taken steady self-governance for granted,” Flake said. “That is a luxury that so many of our fellow human beings living in other countries have never had for a single day in their lives.”