Columns, Opinions

Campanelli ’18: We need more than just words

Staff Columnist
Thursday, October 26, 2017

On Tuesday Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona announced that he would not run for reelection in 2018. His decision comes on the heels of another prominent Republican’s, Bob Corker of Tennessee, who announced the same news last month. Flake, a frequent critic of President Trump, took to the Senate floor to announce his retirement in a speech that can only be described as an utter renunciation of the president, his demeanor and his controversial political stances. In his address, Flake stated that, “It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative … has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party.” These recent announcements — and the Democrats’ response to them — highlight partisan lawmakers’ inability to present a coherent anti-Trump strategy. But, despite the dysfunction, there is still time for both parties to resist Trump’s dangerous behaviors and for the country to come out on top.

As Flake and Corker come out as Trump’s strongest Republican critics, they have also retreated from the struggle over their party’s future. They have surrendered to the idea that a vigorous attack on Trump’s base will actually strengthen his hold on the Republican Party. By failing to run for reelection, though, they have cleared the way for the nomination of pro-Trump candidates. But if Republicans who oppose what Trump stands for are actually serious about their words, they can’t just fall back on a soapbox campaign without tangible action — they must stand up, run for reelection and, even though they will likely lose in the primary, challenge Trump and give the voters an anti-Trump option. They may not win, but they can stand and fight for their beliefs. The 2018 Congressional map does not look promising for Democrats, so it is up to senators like Flake and Corker to keep more Trump-supporting Republicans from heading to D.C. Instead, they have given up and only added words to the conversation, not an actual challenge.

The Republicans who have failed to stand up to Trump and those who are bowing out of a fight with him, however, are not the only ones to blame. Democrats haven’t been doing their fair share either. Flake stood on the Senate floor and delivered a powerful repudiation of the president that is not easy for a member of the president’s own party to make. With one speech, he ended his own career and took a stand against his own party. But Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez ’83 P’18 failed to acknowledge any of Flake’s courage, instead releasing a statement attacking Flake for criticizing the president too late. While other Democratic senators have supported Flake, Perez — the current face of the Democratic Party and head of its political strategy — made unhelpful remarks. Perez’s statement falls into the same category of political behavior that Flake specifically called out: placing party over country. In a time like this, Perez has proven that the Democratic Party would rather defend itself than recognize the valor of lawmakers on the other side of the aisle.

Perez and Flake are, of course, quite different, with  opposing policies and political aims — but Flake’s speech was a climactic moment, which should have resulted in some sort of detente between Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, partisanship prevailed in Washington once again. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Trump can be rebuked and his style of politics defeated at the polls, if Democrats and Republicans dial back the high-minded rhetoric and find concrete, practical areas of common ground. Right now, politicians of both parties have the rare opportunity to engage with one another and unite around shared opposition to Trump’s more dangerous actions and policies. For example, Flake, a stringent budget hawk, can work with Democrats to fight any tax plan that will increase the federal deficit. They may not follow the same fiscal philosophy, but they can work together to resist a tax plan that will raise the deficit and hurt average Americans. The same goes for immigration, infrastructure and trade policy — there are areas of overlap between the Democratic and Republican platforms, and it makes no sense to give up prematurely or give into pettiness.

This strategic cooperation is how real change can occur. This will expose the president’s inability to craft good policy and will benefit both Democrats and Republicans — liberals can resist Trump’s agenda, and traditional conservatives can retain control of their party’s platform. This is how we can finally close the curtain on this dark time in American politics. Perez’s statements, however, show that collaboration is not the Democrats’ real goal. They are more interested in scoring political points. A party that has continuously called for Republican lawmakers to challenge Trump now abandons those who do. But if Democrats refuse to be charitable now, how can they expect undecided or centrist voters to support them when it matters? This is the sad state of political polarization that we live in — when politicians see a problem but are too petty to compromise.

I am proud of Flake for saying the words he did, but if he is serious about the threat that President Trump poses, now is the time for action, not just rhetoric. And Democrats need to join Flake to actually start to make change, not just repeat the same anti-Trump talking points. It’s not easy to take down a leader like Trump, but if principled officeholders really want to make a change, they need to take action and start working together.

Bryce Campanelli ’18 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

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