After their charade over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, Collins and Flake should never again be referred to as moderate Republicans.
Never again fall for their “I’m torn between my party and my principles” schtick — or let them write books with shamelessly dishonest titles.
Conscience of a conservative? Don’t make me laugh. There was no conscience on display from either Republican senator when they announced their support for Brett Kavanaugh on Friday, only naked partisanship coupled with breathtaking cynicism.
The debate is over: Collins and Flake are frauds, fakes, pretenders. Their high-minded claim to bipartisanship was always an act; a (melo)dramatic performance. Unlike their fellow so-called swing voter Sen. Lisa Murkoswki — who will vote against Kavanaugh thanks, in part, to “Alaska’s complicated politics” — Collins and Flake were never going to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
They made the right noises along the way, because they knew that was what they needed to do to protect their carefully cultivated image as moderates, as pragmatists, as reasonable Republicans.
The demand for the FBI to investigate, as Splinter’s Rafi Schwartz observed last week, for example, was “a classic Jeff Flake move to cover his ass.” So too was Flake’s condemnation of Trump for mocking Christine Blasey Ford earlier this week. He said it was “appalling;” Collins called it “plain wrong.”
But you know what might actually be worse than mocking or attacking Ford? Piously proclaiming that “her voice needed to be heard” (Flake) or labeling her allegations “sincere, painful, and compelling” (Collins) — but then voting to confirm, as the 114th Supreme Court justice of the United States, the man that Ford said she was “100 percent certain” had assaulted her.
How about also calling for the FBI to conduct a “supplemental investigation” into Ford’s allegations, as Flake did, while pretending not to notice how deeply flawed and limited that investigation was?
“It appears to be a very thorough investigation,” Collins told reporters on Thursday. Flake told CNN that he agreed with Collins and that “we’ve seen no additional corroborating information” to support Ford’s testimony. This is the kind of brazen Trumpian dishonesty we have become accustomed to from the president of the United States — not from self-styled conservative critics of the president.
To be clear: The FBI probe, time-limited to a single week and micromanaged from the beginning by the White House, was far from “thorough.” It beggars belief that the FBI did not re-interview Kavanaugh as part of its investigation. Nor did the agency speak to his main accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, or the other two named accusers, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick. Nor did Collins or Flake expect the FBI to do so.
Collins and Flake’s grandstanding on the Kavanaugh nomination is just the latest example of their hypocrisy. Yet they have somehow come to be adored by the U.S. media in recent years. They put out moderate-sounding statements and give numerous interviews in which they appear pained or torn, and what do the members of the Washington press corps do? They lap it up. U.S. political journalism still centers on the horse race narrative — who is up and who is down, and which politician has switched from this camp to that camp.
Flake and Collins have sucked up media oxygen over the past two years, and dominated both newspaper headlines and cable news chyrons over the past two weeks by raising the hopes of naive liberals who so desperately want to believe that there might be a few decent human beings left inside the Republican Party. They have made alliances and friendships with Democrats across the aisle (hello, Chris Coons!) who are obsessed with fetishizing comity and bipartisanship.
The media, and some Democrats, might have been kind to Flake and Collins — but history won’t be. In decades to come, people will look back and wonder why, with the single exception of the Collins vote to save Obamacare in 2017, neither senator used their considerable power or influence to derail Trump’s toxic and reactionary agenda.
In a Senate split so narrowly along partisan lines, 51 to 49, these two senators could have united not just to block Kavanaugh — a nominee accused of sexual misconduct by three women and opposed by former Republican Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, among others — but to hold a lawless president to account.
Talk is cheap. As the Washington Post’s “Never Trump” conservative blogger, Jennifer Rubin, pointed out a year ago, senators like Flake and Collins “can demand hearings on Trump’s conflicts of interest, potential violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, self-enrichment and nepotism. They can even demand a vote on legislation to require the president to release his tax returns. Remember: They hold the cards in the Senate.”
What cards, though? Which votes? Collins and Flake have proved, time and again, to be shameless cowards who talk a good game but much prefer words to action. They’re also diehard conservatives: Trump’s agenda, more often than not, is their agenda.
So, yes, they express concern and regret, they call for compromise and bipartisanship, they sigh and frown.
Then, they vote with the president. On his cabinet nominees. On tax cuts. On Neil Gorsuch. And, yes, on Kavanaugh too.
In fact, we owe a debt of gratitude to the numbers-crunchers at FiveThirtyEight and their invaluable “Tracking Congress in the Age of Trump” project, which keeps an updated tally of “how often every member of the House and the Senate votes with or against the president.”
Even prior to affirming their “yes” votes on Kavanaugh, the FiveThirtyEight data put a lie to the claim that Flake and Collins are anti-Trump Republicans.
Collins, in fact, has voted with Trump 79.2 percent of the time — or 4 out of every 5 votes. And Flake? The retiring Arizona Republican has voted with Trump 84 percent of the time.
“Never Trump?” Well, maybe, but only 15 or 20 percent of the time.
“Believe women?” Well, maybe, but not Christine Blasey Ford.
Trump, as we all know, is a con man. But Collins and Flake have been engaged in their own long con. They want us to heap praise on them as the Republican adults in the Senate. Yet they are Trump enablers as much as White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders or chief of staff John Kelly — maybe even more so, given they have the constitutional power and responsibility to check Trump. To demand justice. To prevent the lifetime appointment of a blatant liar like Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land.
It’s past time that we start calling them out for the frauds that they are.