Jeff Flake Is Not the Future of the Republican Party

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Media Outlet: Slate

Lee Drutman was cited by Reihan Salam in Slate for a piece about why Jeff Flake is too much of a 20th century Republican to effectively take on Trump.

If Republican opposition to Trump takes this form—that the problem with Trump is that he strays too far from libertarian orthodoxy—I can confidently say that the opposition will amount to nothing. Or rather, that it will amount to nothing more than a pretty good pitch to the Kochs and other like-minded donors to bankroll a hopeless presidential campaign.
It’s no secret that I’d like to see a serious Republican candidate challenge Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2020 and that I believe there’s a better way forward than warmed-over Goldwaterism. Assuming Trump doesn’t undergo a personality-transforming lobotomy in the months to come, it would be good for the country and good for the party for someone on the right to make an effective case against him. As a sitting senator, Flake certainly qualifies as a serious Republican challenger. But if he runs as the candidate of 1980s nostalgia, he risks doing more harm than good. As political scientist Lee Drutman has observed, the constituency for Flake’s brand of soft libertarianism appears to be relatively small, both in the GOP and in the electorate at large. And if Flake’s case against Trump is that he’s just too darn nationalistic, the Arizona senator might wind up as the president’s perfect foil.

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Lee Drutman is a senior fellow in the program on political reform at New America. He is the author of The Business of America is Lobbying (Oxford University Press, 2015).