In a widely anticipated speech, Flake criticized Trump for using Stalinist language to describe the press. Additionally, he pointed out that the president’s rhetoric has been parroted by authoritarian leaders around the world, including Robert Duterte in the Philippines and Bashar al-Asad in Syria.
Towards the end of his speech, Senator Flake called on the country to not be complacent in President Trump’s attacks on the media.
“We are a mature democracy – it is past time to stop excusing or ignoring or worse, endorsing – these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost,” said Flake.
Reaction ranged greatly among the contenders for Flake’s seat.
In the lead up to and in the aftermath of Jeff Flake’s speech, Kelli Ward published an op-ed and fired off a series of tweets bashing Arizona’s junior Senator.
In an op-ed article in The Hill, Ward described Flake’s speech as “somewhat hysterical” and “misguided and inappropriate.” She went on to argue that Flake’s speech “exacerbated the very coarsening of civil discourse that he claims to oppose.”
Ward also defended President Trump against the “mainstream media” which she described as having “liberal partiality” and an “anti-conservative bias.”
“Some of that reporting has turned out to be inaccurate and, in response, the president has been fully justified in calling out instances of journalistic malpractice,” she said.
Flake is an easy punching bag for Kelli Ward who routinely criticizes his statements against Trump. Recently, she has been trying to link her primary opponent Congresswoman Martha McSally with Senator Flake.
Although she was the leading candidate during 2017, Ward is trailing in polls against her two opponents. Part of Ward’s issues appears to stem from her past association with Steve Bannon who recently had a falling out with President Trump. Ward has since sought to distance herself from “sloppy Steve,” as the president has dubbed his former chief strategist.
Although Congresswoman McSally has been less vocal against Flake’s speech than Kelli Ward, she has nonetheless taken a very similar position as her primary opponent.
In an interview with the Arizona Daily Star, McSally called Flake’s comparison of President Trump to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin “absurd.” She also defended the president’s criticism of the mainstream media.
“When President Trump talks about fake news, he’s not only referring to negative coverage on himself which independent studies have confirmed is around 90 percent of all broadcast statements, he’s also referring to general media bias,” she said in the interview. “You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to presume there’s bias there.”
McSally announced her candidacy for Senate last Friday. Since then she has attempted to shore up her credentials as a Trump supporter. She defended the president’s characterization of El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries as “shitholes,” saying that she too speaks “a little salty behind closed doors.”
McSally appears to be taking a card from Trump’s political playbook. When she launched her senatorial campaign, McSally called on Congressional Republicans to “grow a pair of ovaries.” She later called on Congress to stop “dicking around” on immigration.
Following Flake’s speech, Joe Arpaio called on the Senator to resign. Jeff Flake has made no indication that he will not fully serve out his remaining year in the Senate.
Arpaio is an ardent supporter of President Trump and endorsed his candidacy for president in early-January 2016. Before that, Arpaio and Trump were two of the leading figures in the conspiracy that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
For his part, President Trump has also stood by Arpaio, going so far as to grant the former-Maricopa County Sheriff a full pardon. Arpaio was found guilty of contempt of court related to racial profiling during his time as sheriff.
When Trump announced his pardon on Twitter, he said that Arpaio had “kept Arizona safe!”
In the few polls already conducted, Joe Arpaio is second to Martha McSally. However, in a state where Republicans are heavily in favor of Trump, the president’s endorsement will most likely heavily influence the race to replace Senator Flake.