Sen. Jeff Flake: Republican Party "Has Lost Its Way," Given In To Nativism, Protectionism, Xenophobia


Sen. Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, speaks with CBS's John Dickerson about the political climate today:

DICKERSON: And that brings us to the other senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, who "The New York Times" columnist David Brooks writes is sunny and kind in a time when politics has become a blood sport.

He joins us today to talk about his new book, "Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle."

Welcome, Senator.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Thanks for having me on.

DICKERSON: Why did you write the book?

FLAKE: I felt that, just like Goldwater had felt in his time, 56 years ago, when he wrote the original ""Conscience of Conservative," that the party had lost its way.

And I think, similarly today, the party's lost its way. We have given into nativism and protectionism. And I think that, if we're going to be a governing party in the future, and a majority party, we have got to go back to traditional conservatism, limited government, economic freedom, individual responsibility, respect for free trade. Those are the principles that made us who we are.

DICKERSON: One of the things you write in the book is: "It is not enough to be conservative anymore. You have to be vicious."

What do you mean by that?

FLAKE: Well, if you look at the politics of today, the tape from last week at the White House and the language that was used then, and we have seen, unfortunately, too many examples of members of Congress and other elected officials using language, referring to your opponents in ways that you would have never done before, ascribing the worst motives to your opponents and assuming that other Americans are the enemy.

And that is just not the way it used to be. And I don't think it can be that way in the future.

DICKERSON: Is it your view that those -- that kind of behavior is --well, it's bad on its own terms, but is also getting in the way, it's blocking out?

FLAKE: You bet. You bet.

I mean, there are big issues that we have got to solve. You talked about North Korea, the difficult foreign policy things that we have to do.

But that and deficit, for example, health care reform, these are things that can't be done by one party. We have just seen the limits of what one party can do. Even if you change the rules of the Senate, which we should not do, there are limits to what one party can do.

If we're going to solve this debt problem, $20 trillion of debt we have -- we're going to be running deficits -- deficits again over a trillion dollars soon. Those require both parties sitting together and sharing the risk. And it's hard to imagine that can happen when we're ascribing the worst motives to our opponents...

FLAKE: Well, I got to Congress in 2001, myself and Mike Pence, actually. We had run think tanks, conservative think tanks, in the '90s. We got elected together. And we sat next to each other early on, on the floor.

I remember him saying that he felt like that we were Minutemen called up to the battlefront, only to be told the revolution of ideas was over. And we have given into kind of the politics of personal destruction, and quickly to a lot of spending and other things that really, I think, made the ground fertile for the type of politics that we have today.

And that's unfortunate. I think we, as Republicans, kind of gave away the limited government mantle when we spent like crazy in 2000, 2006 while Republicans had the majority in both houses and the White House. And then that forced us to delve into the wedge issues, like flag burning, or the case of Terri Schiavo or things like that.

And now we have, I think, taken up a banner that is not familiar to us. It's one of intense nationalism and nativism and sometimes xenophobia.

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