Jeff Flake Could've Saved Us. He Didn't.

Prominent Mormon Republicans like Flake and Mitt Romney could have paved the way for Trump's defeat. But they didn't.
08/01/2017 10:43 am ET Updated Aug 01, 2017
NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images

The White House is in chaos and the U.S.’s global status has been in a freefall since Trump’s election. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is getting a lot of attention for speaking out against Trump and his own party’s contributions to the degradation of our institutions and politics. And kudos to him for speaking truth to power. But Flake has been a senator since 2012. He got elected with an assist from the GOP’s anti-Obama fervor that he now questions. Where was Flake in 2016, before the election?

Flake is a Mormon (a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Mormons have largely voted Republican since the 1970s. Typically, they vote for the Republican presidential candidate at a rate of roughly 75 percent — and that rate spiked to 85 percent when Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012. (Romney’s a Mormon too.)

But Mormons didn’t like Trump in 2016. Romney spoke out forcefully against Trump’s candidacy in March. Evan McMullin (also Mormon) launched an anti-Trump third-party bid for the presidency. The New Yorker credited Mormons for saving the Never Trump movement. And some polls showed Trump might lose Utah (the most Mormon-heavy state) — which hasn’t been purple since 1968.

He did make it clear that he would not vote for Clinton. And therein lies the rub.

Where was Flake in 2016? Like Romney, Flake was critical of Trump early on. In May he suggested he might not be able to support Trump’s candidacy. He had a “testy” exchange with Trump in July. In September he criticized Trump’s nasty rhetoric, and warned that Republicans could lose Arizona (another Mormon-heavy state) if Trump didn’t change his tone. And in the last week before the election, Flake suggested he still might vote for McMullin instead of Trump.

Maybe Flake did vote for McMullin. Or maybe he ended up voting for Trump after all. Who knows? He never made it clear who he would actually vote for. But he did make it clear that he would not vote for Clinton. And therein lies the rub.

Trump won Flake’s state of Arizona by only about 85,000 votes, where there are over 400,000 Mormons. Trump won Michigan by only about 11,000 votes, where there are nearly 45,000 Mormons. And Trump won Florida by about 120,000 votes, where there are nearly 155,000 Mormons.

What if prominent Mormon Republicans like Flake and Romney had gotten serious about their opposition to Trump? What if they had provided more political and social cover for Mormon-Republican voters to stop Trump by voting for Clinton? You know: for the good of the country. That sort of thing. Mormons alone could’ve swung the results in Arizona and Michigan — easily. It’s possible they could’ve swung the results in Florida. According to math, if McMullin’s voters had voted for Clinton, Clinton would’ve won Utah. And, of course, Romney and Flake could’ve persuaded many non-Mormon Republicans to stop Trump by voting for Clinton, too.

But they didn’t. Instead, Romney grew silent as the election approached. Then he tried to ingratiate himself with Trump over dinner, thinking he might get a cabinet position. And, while Flake remained critical of Trump’s rhetoric right up to the election, he never fully committed to voting for McMullin. (And he’s voted in-line with Trump 96 percent of the time, since January.) So most Mormon Republicans did what most non-Mormon Republicans did, in November: they held their noses and voted for Trump. Et voila. Here we are.

So kudos to Flake for speaking truth to power. We need more Republicans to stand up and oppose what’s happening. But it’s too bad Flake and others didn’t do more to stop Trump before he got elected. And hopefully it isn’t already too late to stop him now.

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