Josh Barro argues that Jeff Flake isn’t brave, he’s helpless:
…Flake has not broken significantly with Trump on policy. When Trump has needed votes in the Senate to pass agenda items and to confirm nominees, Flake has been there to support him.
I don’t mean to suggest Flake should have shown his resistance to Trump by supporting Obamacare or opposing tax cuts. Flake is very conservative. But as I wrote in July, Flake has made no significant effort to use his official powers to block Trump’s agenda even on issues where he sits to the president’s right, like trade.
Instead, Flake’s opposition to Trump has consisted almost entirely of complaining, and now he’s not even bothering to seek reelection to the Senate, where he could do something about whatever Trump is doing.
Here is the thing, though: while Flake and Trump do disagree on trade and immigration, it wasn’t Trump’s policies that Flake denounced as unconscionable. It was Trump’s conduct.
Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as “telling it like it is,” when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.
Implicit in Flake’s speech is the assertion that he would have been willing to compromise on policy. Indeed, that is the job of a successful legislator. Flake was not, however, willing to compromise on character. It was the refusal to compromise on character that left Flake helpless, not the fact that he disagrees with the President on immigration.
Moreover, the essence of bravery is the willingness to put yourself in situations that might render you helpless, because the price of avoiding those situations is more than one’s willing to bear. In principle this may seem simple to do. In practice, as Flake explained, it’s not:
We can all be forgiven for failing [to act on conscience and principle] from time to time. I certainly put myself at the top of the list of those who fall short in this regard.
I am holier than none but too often we rush not to salvage principle but to forgive and excuse our failures so that we might accommodate them and go right on failing until the accommodation itself becomes our principle. In that way, and over time, we can justify almost any behavior and sacrifice any principle.
Cowardice creeps in by degrees, as little by little we trade principle for power and sacrifice bits of our conscience so that we might avoid moments of helplessness. This is the trade that Flake has refused to make, and continues to refuse to make. It has indeed rendered him helpless, and thereby, revealed his bravery.