At the same time, there is record interest from Democrats to come to D.C. and hold the Trump administration accountable for, in Flake’s words, “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior.”
Flake’s retirement announcement closely follows news that fellow Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chair of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, will not run again in 2018.
Both Flake and Corker have been a part of the Congressional Furrowed Brow Caucus — that group of Republicans who grab headlines by wearing pained facial expressions and issuing strongly worded statements that they’re “very concerned” about Trump’s outrageous actions, but who refuse to take any real action to rein in the administration.
And Flake’s speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate announcing his retirement received widespread praise for courageously calling out Trump’s actions, as well as the impotent reaction of his Republican colleagues.
Yet these senators have shown their true colors. Rather than fight for either the soul of their Trump-damaged party or the American people in peril, both have decided to turn tail and retire. Both are in positions to hold the Trump administration accountable, yet decided to follow up strong words with weak actions.
In a time of national crisis, where Corker says he is concerned about World War III breaking out, the most “courageous” Republicans in Washington are abandoning Americans in a time of need.
In addition to Flake and Corker, 15 House Republicans have already announced their intention to leave Congress (five are running for governor, seven are calling it quits at the end of their term, and three are bailing before their term ends). There are reports that Utah Senator Orrin Hatch may be retiring, and he likely won’t be the last rumored to be leaving before all is said and done.
The lesson from Flake, Corker, and the other Republicans who are slinking away is clear: The only people Americans can count on to hold Trump accountable are Democrats.
Democrats in the House and Senate are clamoring for the ability to rein in Trump and his high-flying Cabinet. Where Republicans are either running away from a crisis — or, when it comes to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, sycophantically locking arms with Trump — Democrats across the country are lining up to help a country in need.
In fact, EMILY’s List has reported that nearly 19,000 women have reached out to the organization since the presidential election to express an interest in running for office.
And Republicans have further reason to worry. According to Politico, “Democratic candidates are reporting historic early fundraising totals, alarming GOP strategists and raising the prospect that 2018 could feature the most expansive House battlefield in years.”
Indeed, Democrats are outraising Republicans in many instances:
Animated by opposition to President Donald Trump and the Republican congressional majorities, at least 162 Democratic candidates in 82 GOP-held districts have raised over $100,000 so far this year, according to a POLITICO analysis of the latest FEC data. That’s about four times as many candidates as House Democrats had at this point before the 2016 or 2014 elections, and it’s more than twice as many as Republicans had running at this point eight years ago, on the eve of capturing the House in the 2010 wave election.
Nearly three dozen Republican incumbents were outraised by Democratic challengers in the third quarter of this year – a stunning figure. Nine GOP incumbents already trail a Democratic opponent in cash on hand, increasing the likelihood that many veteran incumbents will face tough opposition for the first time in years.
Democrats are eager for Congress to reassert true oversight — not for political gain, but to begin to repair the “damage to our democracy and to the institutions of American liberty” caused by Trump, to use the words of Flake in his recent Washington Post op-ed.
And in his speech on the Senate floor, Flake declared, “When the next generation asks us ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ I know what I’m going to say.”
Progressives know what they will say, too.
Single mom Hala Ayala will be able to say that she ran for Virginia House of Delegates in order to oust an anti-women, anti-immigrant, Trumpian incumbent.
Retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, the first woman Marine to fly an F-18 in combat, will say that she ran for Congress in Kentucky, determined to go to Washington to hold Trump accountable.
Thousands of Americans will talk about how they volunteered for a campaign, joined the Women’s March, called Congress to save the Affordable Care Act, and donated to progressive candidates across the country.
Flake, meanwhile, will tell the next generation that he retired, hoping someone else would do the hard work of acting as a check on Trump’s dangerous impulses and the GOP’s spineless acquiescence.
In our two-party system, the Republican Party has thoroughly capitulated to the “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior” of Trump.
Democrats — through both words and actions — are the only party willing to stand up and fight back against the harmful agenda being forced on the nation by Trump and his cronies in the GOP.
Americans, when they go to the ballot box in 2017 (in New Jersey and Virginia) and 2018, have a chance to choose elected officials who will put the interests of everyday people over those of wealthy donors.
The choice couldn’t be clearer.