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Joseph Sabino Mistick: Republicans jumping ship

| Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks on the Senate floor Tuesday at the Capitol in Washington. Flake announced he will not run for re-election in 2018. (Senate TV via AP)
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks on the Senate floor Tuesday at the Capitol in Washington. Flake announced he will not run for re-election in 2018. (Senate TV via AP)

Thirty years ago, Republican Tom Kean, then governor of New Jersey, wrote a book called “The Politics of Inclusion,” an ode to the center-right politics that took him to the top of his blue state. Kean appealed to Democrats, and he won re-election to his second term with 71 percent of the vote.

Political inclusion has been described as “pulling people out of the water and into the boat,” once a standard approach in politics.

Compare that to Donald Trump, who has been throwing people out of the boat and into the water. It is an odd strategy because Trump regularly aims his insult rants at fellow Republicans, whose votes he needs to pass his agenda.

And that has given rise to a new phenomenon.

Some Republicans have decided to throw themselves overboard, rather than put up with Trump's abuse or wait for him to give them the heave-ho.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., announced that he would not seek re-election.

“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,” Flake said on the floor of the Senate. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”

Flake, who has supported Trump's agenda but incurred his wrath anyway, was just the latest Republican senator to call out Trump.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., announced that he was not seeking re-election. He had broken with Trump and criticized him for not unequivocally denouncing the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Va., in August.

Corker said, “The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence, that he needs to demonstrate in order for him to be successful. And we need for him to be successful … . It doesn't matter whether you are Republican or Democrat.”

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., makes it three. McCain has suffered more than his share of Trump's insults, but he stayed focused on legislation, until the end of summer.

In a Washington Post op-ed, McCain said, “Congress must govern with a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct.”

McCain added, “We must be diligent in discharging our responsibility to serve as a check on his power.”

There is rejoicing in Trump World, a sense of good riddance that three old-style Republicans are no longer on the Trump team. But there is trouble, too, because the vanquished usually disappear from the scene, and that will not happen here. Both Flake and Corker will serve through the end of 2018, and McCain's term ends in 2022. They may show allegiance to the traditional Republican Party or Trump's version of the Republican Party, or neither.

But this much is certain: By taking away the one thing that Trump held over them, Flake and Corker have called Trump's bluff. With McCain, they can now vote without regard to their own re-election chances. And in Trump World, that makes them dangerous politicians.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).

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