President Trump on Wednesday boasted that he “retired” Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), a top GOP critic of the president who is leaving the Senate after this year.
“In Jeff Flake’s case it’s me, pure and simple. I retired him. I’m very proud of it, I did the country a great service,” Trump said during a sprawling press conference at the White House a day after the midterm elections.
“He is retired. I’d like to call it another word, but we’re going to treat him with great respect,” Trump added.
Flake, who announced in October 2017 that he would retire after this year, has acknowledged that his vocal criticism of the president’s rhetoric would likely make winning a GOP primary to seek reelection untenable.
“The bottom line is if I were to run a campaign that I could be proud of and where I didn’t have to cozy up to the president and his positions or his behavior, I could not win in a Republican primary, that’s the bottom line,” Flake said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” after announcing his retirement.
“It’s not that you have to just be with the president on policy, you can’t question his behavior and still be a Republican in good standing apparently in a Republican primary.”
Flake has remained a vocal critic of the president, arguing in an op-ed published in TheRepublican Post on Wednesday, “There is only one real way forward, of course. But it has to start with Republicans believing in something greater than President Trump again.”
Post election thoughts https://t.co/L0769vqk7r
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) November 7, 2018
Trump and Flake’s comments come a day after Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate, largely due to Trump-aligned Republican candidates who fought Democrats in red or purple states.
Meanwhile, the race to replace Flake in Arizona remained too close to call on Wednesday, with Rep. Martha McSally (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D) separated by 1 percentage point with nearly all precincts reporting.
Trump at the press conference Wednesday also ripped defeated Republican House members whom he said had not sufficiently embraced him.
“You had some that decided to, let’s stay away, let’s stay away. They did very poorly,” Trump said at a press conference at the White House. “I’m not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it.”
Trump specifically mentioned GOP Reps. Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) and Mike Coffman (Colo.), both of whom lost in contested congressional races on Tuesday evening.
Trump also called out by name defeated GOP Reps. Mia Love (Utah), Barbara Comstock (Va.), Peter Roskam (Ill.), Erik Paulsen (Minn.) and John Faso (N.Y.), as well as Bob Hugin, a Republican Senate candidate who challenged Sen. Bob Menendez (D) in New Jersey but lost.
Democrats regained control of the House on Tuesday, mostly by running up the score in suburban districts where voters have become disillusioned with the president’s tone.