Jeff Flake tells GOP not to support Trump in 2020

Former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake on Monday urged Republicans in Congress not to support President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection bid, saying they have a moral obligation to put their principles first — even if it means risking their careers.

Flake, a longtime Trump critic who has before argued that the Republican Party should not support the President in 2020, made his case in an op-ed published in The Washington Post titled “Fellow Republicans, there’s still time to save your souls,” writing that Senate Republicans should refuse to support a second term for the President, despite their feelings on the Democrat-controlled House’s impeachment inquiry.

“My fellow Republicans, it is time to risk your careers in favor of your principles. Whether you believe the president deserves impeachment, you know he does not deserve reelection,” wrote Flake, who represented Arizona before he left Congress earlier this year. “Our country will have more presidents. But principles, well, we get just one crack at those. For those who want to put America first, it is critically important at this moment in the life of our country that we all, here and now, do just that.”

“Trust me when I say that you can go elsewhere for a job. But you cannot go elsewhere for a soul.”

Flake, who decided to retire rather than seek reelection in 2018, had been a vocal critic of Trump during his last few years in office — though he at times sided with the President, including last year when he provided critical support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

In March, he said he would prefer a Democrat win the 2020 election than have Trump serve another term. Flake ruled out a primary challenge to Trump earlier this year, putting to rest widespread speculation that he may attempt to unseat the President.

Flake, in his op-ed, called not supporting the President’s reelection effort an “easy decision,” but noted that though “the president’s actions warrant impeachment,” he has “grave reservations about impeachment.” Last week, House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump for his communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The White House has since released a transcript of the call, as well as a whistleblower complaint that alleges Trump abused his official powers “to solicit interference” from Ukraine in the upcoming 2020 election, and that the White House took steps to cover it up. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.

The rough transcript of the call released by the White House shows Trump repeatedly pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential 2020 political rival, and his son, Hunter Biden.

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.

Flake, asked last week at the Texas Tribune Festival about what his former Republican colleagues in the Senate are saying about the impeachment news, suggested dozens of GOP senators would vote to convict Trump if their votes were kept secret.

“Somebody mentioned yesterday that if there were a private vote, that there would be 30 Republican votes. That’s not true, there would be at least 35, maybe more if it were a private vote — but that’s not possible,” Flake said.

But impeaching amid the scandal, he argued in the Monday op-ed, “might actually benefit” Trump.

“I fear that, given the profound division in the country, an impeachment proceeding at such a toxic moment might actually benefit a president who thrives on chaos,” Flake wrote.

He added: “Disunion is the oxygen of this presidency. He is the maestro of a brand of discord that benefits only him and ravages everything else. So although impeachment now seems inevitable, I fear it all the same.”

CNN’s Eric Bradner and Jamie Ehrlich contributed to this report.