PHOENIX — Arizona could do something in November it hasn’t done in 20 years if Donald Trump doesn’t change his tone and tenor, the state’s junior U.S. senator said Sunday: Support the Democrat presidential nominee.
Jeff Flake said the Republican presidential candidate’s statements about Mexicans and immigration are only part of the reason voters here could choose Hillary Clinton over his party’s nominee. He said Trump needs to walk back his comments about the family of a Muslim solider who was killed in Iraq and needs to recognize that international trade agreements are important for U.S. interests.
What happens to Trump in Arizona won’t affect Flake who is not up for reelection this year. But it could have an effect on seatmate John McCain who, while repeatedly criticizing Trump for his comments, has insisted he is supporting the party’s nominee.
Interviewed Sunday on Face the Nation, Flake said he met privately last week with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, who was in Arizona for political rallies in Tucson and Phoenix. Flake said Pence, who served with Flake in the House for 12 years, attempted to convince him to come around.
“Well, that Donald Trump was a different guy in private than he is shown in public,’’ Flake said.
“Mike is a good guy and I hope that he has influence on Donald Trump,’’ the senator continued. But the assurances, Flake said, were not enough.
“If you could govern in private I guess it would be OK,’’ he said. “But you can’t.’’
So Flake is watching the public Trump.
“I have yet to see Donald Trump change the positions he needs to change, and, particularly, change the tone and tenor of the debate sufficient to win the election in November.’’
It starts, Flake said, with statements Trump “made right out of the gate ... about those crossing the border being rapists and what-not.’’
“That just doesn’t sit well,’’ he said. “And then to refer to a judge born in Indiana (who is handling a case against Trump) as a ‘Mexican’ in a pejorative way, you can’t expect to win Arizona when you make statements like that and you offend a large and growing demographic needlessly.’’
Flake pointed out that Bill Clinton won what has been a traditionally Republican state in 1996 besting Bob Dole.
“So, yes, it is possible,’’ he said.
Flake pointed out Hispanics make up about a third of the population. And even with Hispanics having generally lower turnout than other groups, it is growing.
“What the poll also shows is there’s an increased urgency among Hispanics to vote,’’ he said. “And if they do, it will be a changed ballgame here.’’
It’s not just Arizona that Trump is in danger of losing.
“He’s only received about 14 million votes in the primary so far,’’ Flake said, saying it will take about 65 million votes to win in November.
“You’ve got to take more responsible positions with regard to policy,’’ he said, as well as the tone of the campaign.
“And if none of us on the Republican side are pushing back and saying that needs to change, then I don’t believe he will change,’’ Flake explained. “And he has to change if he’s going to win that election and we’re going to get the policies we need in the White House.’’
Flake made a special push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Trump is opposed; Clinton started in support but now has reversed her stance.
“We’ve got to trade if we want economic growth,’’ he said. And then there’s the question of our own national interest.
“We want southeast Asian countries in particular to be in our trade orbit, not nut just China’s,’’ Flake said.