Last week, the New Hampshire Institute for Politics announced that Senator Jeff Flake would be appearing at their upcoming "Politics and Eggs" breakfast in Manchester.
This raised quite a few eyebrows, since it's well established that there are only two reasons to go to northern New England in March:
2. New Hampshire's presidential primary is the first in the nation.
In this case, the evidence suggests that Flake is floating a presidential run. Though he hasn't said as much, he's been hinting at the possibility since last summer, when he published a book about his political philosophy.
Writing a political memoir may be the most cliche "running for president" move, but Flake's book stands out from other examples of the genre because it's not just a bunch of strung-together platitudes. He argues that the Republican Party is making a mistake by embracing conspiracy theories and demonizing immigrants. He also doesn't shy away from criticizing President Donald Trump.
During his press tour for the book, Flake suggested to Georgia Public Broadcasting that Trump was inviting a primary challenge in 2020. Could that primary challenger be ... Jeff Flake? Numerous interviewers have since broached the question, and Flake has repeatedly said that he doesn't plan to run, but hasn't ruled it out either.
"I do believe if the president is running for re-election, if he continues on the path that he's on, that that's going to leave a huge swath of voters looking for something else," he told CNN in December.
A week after that, he told the Arizona Republic that while Trump currently has the Republican Party locked down, "I don't know if it will still be that way a couple of years from now. You just don't know."
Following the publication of his book, Flake has managed to stay in the national spotlight.
First, there was his October announcement that he wouldn't run for re-election since, in his view, there was no longer a place for him in the Republican Party.
Then, in December, he backed Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, posting a picture of a check made out to Jones on his Twitter account.
In January, he got into a Twitter fight with Arizona congressman Paul Gosar, who'd suggested arresting any undocumented immigrants who attended the State of the Union. All along, he's continued to criticize Trump (and been attacked by Trump in return).
Returning to CNN last week, Flake once again said that he hasn't ruled out the idea of running for president.
"I do think the president will have a challenge from the Republican Party, I think there should be," he said. "I also think that there will be an independent challenge, particularly if the Democrats insist on putting somebody up from the far left of the party."
As we all know, "I haven't ruled it out" is politician-speak for "Yeah, I'm probably going to run." And if Flake randomly shows up in a cornfield in rural Iowa next, there will be absolutely zero question about what his intentions are.
Critics invariably point out that Flake was facing abysmal approval ratings when he decided not to run for re-election, and that polling showed him losing to far-right candidate Kelli Ward. If he can't hold onto his seat in his home state of Arizona, the thinking goes, what makes him think that he could be elected president?
This misses the point: Flake would be running to make a statement, not because he necessarily thought he could win.
One endorsement that he's already received is that of Mesa mayor John Giles, who in November was caught on a hot mic telling Flake to run for president.
"And I am not throwing smoke at you, but you are the guy," Giles said. "Just for fun, think about how much fun it would be, just to be the foil, you know, and point out what an idiot this guy [Trump] is."
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