Under threat of an arduous primary challenge backed by Steve Bannon, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., announced Tuesday he will not seek reelection.
Flake’s decision to retire follows that of Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who stood down as polls showed him below 50 percent with Republican voters in his state. Bannon was recruiting a primary challenger to run against Corker.
The former chief Trump White House strategist now has helped pressure two establishment Republican senators to step aside and make room for candidates more favorable to Trump. Corker and Flake are perhaps Trump’s harshest critics among Republicans in the Senate.
Flake, like Corker, had been struggling in the polls. According to the Arizona Republic, Flake acknowledged that political concerns were driving his decision:
He told The Arizona Republic ahead of his announcement that he has become convinced “there may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party.”
Flake said he has not “soured on the Senate” and loves the institution, but that as a traditional, libertarian-leaning conservative Republican he is out of step with today’s Trump-dominated GOP.
“This spell will pass, but not by next year,” Flake said.
During an emotional speech on the Senate floor, Flake assailed Trump. “I rise today to say, ‘enough.’ We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal.”
Flake’s decision comes just one week after Bannon hosted a fundraiser for Flake challenger Kelli Ward.