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Díaz and Boas: Politics are full of vitriol, but it won't always be this way

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Monday, March 25, 2024 - 12:20pm
Updated: Monday, April 1, 2024 - 11:04am

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Sen. Jeff Flake
J. Scott Applewhite/AP via NPR
Sen. Jeff Flake

Politics today has become nothing if not toxic.

Division and attacks rule the day from the campaign trail to the halls of Congress. It's why now independent U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema says she is not running again. It's why we've seen state legislators step down and county supervisors who have faced death threats and personal attacks.

But Phil Boas, columnist for the Arizona Republic, said it won't always be this way, and he wants us all to take a trip back in not so distant political to remember one of Arizona's own political minds who was always at least cordial: Jeff Flake.

Today, Flake is the U.S. ambassador to Turkey under the Biden administration. But he spent most of his political career working on the other side of the political spectrum as a longtime Republican senator from Arizona.

Boas joins Arizona Republic editorial page editor Elvia Díaz this morning for a trip down political memory lane on The Show.

Full interview

LAUREN GILGER: So Phil, this column came about because of the recent resurrection of sort of another political figure of years past, Christine Blasey Ford. Is that right?

PHIL BOAS: That's right. Christine Blasey Ford was on ABC's "The View" and she has come out with a memoir where she talks about her role in the, the [Brett] Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings. She had accused the judge of having sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers back in the 1980s, back in Bethesda, Maryland.

Of course, the Senate finally confirmed Kavanaugh. He went on to be one of Trump's conservative justices. But, she was recalling that time and just remembering that she was told to prepare herself, brace herself that the Republicans were gonna basically ice her out. They weren't going to be talking to her. She said Lindsey Graham didn't even make eye contact with her. But she said there were a couple of Republicans who actually said hello to her and were kind to her and, and when asked who they were, she said they were Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse. So that, that opened the door for a discussion about Jeff Flake and the kind of person that he is and was when he was serving Arizona in the Senate.

GILGER: Yeah. So I want to, I want you to remind us of some of that. I think a lot of Republicans today will cringe at the mention of Jeff Flake. So tell us, you know what you remember him for why you think he was stand out in this way.

BOAS: Well, I first really got to know Jeff Flake when he was a congressman, and, and I will tell you that [I] immediately knew and understood that he was a man of high character. He was just one of the most decent people in politics. I, I would say he's guileless. He, he's not somebody who really goes on the attack and tries to destroy people. He doesn't practice the, the politics of personal destruction, as Bill Clinton called it.

He was a man who cared about ideas and issues and policy and really understood policy in a way that that many senators and congressmen don't understand, they don't, they don't dive into the weeds like he does. And there was also, coming from a Republican, he was interesting because he, he had a real deep understanding and sympathy for immigrants coming over the border. And he well understood that we need laws and we need to obey our laws. But he also understood those people coming over and why they might be and he had great sympathy for them.

And I, I was just remembering back to a politics that was more decent and more principled, a conservatism that was more principled than what we have today, which is, is, is a politics of the battle ax.

Phil Boas and Elvia Díaz
Arizona Republic
Phil Boas and Elvia Díaz

GILGER: So Elvia, let me turn to you and get your take from the other side of the political aisle, right? Like Jeff Flake, you know, is, as we said, working under the Biden administration as an ambassador to Turkey. Now his pushback against Trump and the way that he changed the party and kind of the way he changed political discourse, I think kind of ended his career in the GOP. What does that say about politics today?

ELVIA DÍAZ: Well, you know, the first time that I read the column when Phil filed and I, I thought it was seriously talking about a politician and remembering because he brought protocol by saying hello. But then, you know, I kept reading and then, yes, Phil is right. It is the kind of politics that we're leaving today. I mean, Blasey Ford was precisely talking about two senators that said hello to her during those meetings and made eye contact with her. That was shocking to me to remember how things were before, how things are today. And also I, I have forgotten about Jeff Flake, and I feel bad about that, but I truly did. I mean, he's in Turkey. We don't talk about him.

And your question was about how he changed politics. He didn't change politics, politics changed around him. And that's why he's not a U.S. senator. That's why he couldn't get past a primary, which are, the strong Trump supporters would not vote for him. So he remained the same and I think that's to his credit. I do remember him. I was an editor back then, but I do remember him caring about immigrants as Phil was saying. ... He pushed for immigration reform, but, you know, he did not survive the Trump era.

So I agree with Phil. What I don't agree is Phil's sense that Republican's aren't cruel, that this is the way forward, that those voting for Donald Trump are actually better than Trump. So that's very debatable. But in terms of Jeff Flake, I do wish there were other Republicans like him. I do miss those kind of Republicans.

GILGER: So Phil, well, let's hear your kind of argument on that, right? Like you're arguing in this column that, that Republicans are, you know, better than this. They're not a cruel party, that they can and will go back you think to the days of someone like Jeff Flake.

BOAS: Yeah. I think a lot of Democrats don't understand how Republicans got to where they got. And I'm not saying we made the right decisions in the way we got there. But what was happening was Republicans just found themselves with a finger of accusation pointed at them on just about everything. They were responsible for sexism and racism and homophobia and everything else under the sun. And there was this tremendous rise in identity politics that was going on in the left that was radical, frankly.

And and, and the Republicans found somebody who could play identity politics. Donald Trump, who would go out and throw punch for them for what was generally a, a white party, which I think is a problem. And I think Jeff Flake would argue is a problem with the, the Republican party as it is today. I went back while I was researching this and reread Flake's book, "The Conscience Of a Conservative," and, with a much greater appreciation of what he was trying to say back then. It's really a defense of conservatism and, and a defense of principles over politics that, that you have to have principles that are rock solid and stick with them when you're dealing with policy. Of course, there's negotiation but that you have to be grounded in principle. And we have completely untethered ourselves within the Republican Party from principle.

GILGER: Elvia, you, you disagree, the Republican Party can go back. Do you disagree that they are as well untethered from principle?

DÍAZ: I believe that America itself can go back, the self-correct that Phil is talking about, because I have faith in people overall, not necessarily in parties. I don't think the Republican Party would ever go back to what it was as a party. We have seen that Phil was writing here that they elected someone worse than themselves because they were being punched and they wanted someone to punch back. That's a quote.

They are, you know, someone like me, a Mexican immigrant. I do understand what, what they were saying. I understand being the underdog. I understand being attacked from the moment I got to this country and 20, 30 years later, still feeling exactly the same. So, it's not that it is, it is really something else from my point of view anyway. So I don't have optimism in the near future. But I, I gosh, I really hope I'm wrong. You know, I do miss the Jeff Flakes of the world, and they are amongst us but they are quiet. They are not the people that are raising their voices, they are not people that are just saying things the way they are, regardless of what it's going to mean to them personally and their personal ambitions.

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