No politician wants to read words like these, on fivethirtyeight.com
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is unpopular — really unpopular. According to a poll about all 100 senators released Tuesday by Morning Consult, just 37 percent of registered voters in Arizona approve of their junior senator, compared with 45 percent who disapprove. That gives Flake a net approval rating of -8 percentage points, the worst of any senator.
On Morning Consult, the headline of an article reads, Only One Senator Up for Re-Election in 2018 Has Underwater Approval Rating
. Flake's picture is above the headline. Ouch.
Compared to most politicians, Flake usually come off as a reasonably honest, forthright guy with a conscience—a conservative with moderate tendencies. He even got Trump riled up enough that our commander in chief said he'll spend millions of dollars to primary out Flake—which is a plus for the senator in my book. But now, faced with his worst-in-the-nation numbers, Flake has thrown moderation and forthrightness to the winds. He's tacking as far right as he can to fight off certain primary opposition. After that, he figures, he can flip over his political Etch-A-Sketch, give it a shake and put on his "sensible Republican" mantle for the general election.
The first big test for Republican senators is the upcoming health care legislation. Flake decided to throw in with far-right Senator Ted Cruz and support the "Consumer Freedom Option" he developed. Basically, Cruz says if insurance companies have one option that's in line with the Obamacare rules, they should be able to create as many low cost, low coverage options as they like. Remember the subprime loan disaster? This is subprime health insurance. Consumers are sold insurance on the cheap, then when they need it, they find it's all promises and no coverage. The plan is so bad, even insurance companies don't like it. They know healthy people will flock to the low cost, low coverage insurance, and the Obamacare-compliant options will be chosen mostly by people in the greatest need of care—in other words, people with preexisting conditions. The cost of those plans will skyrocket, making them unaffordable to the people who need them most.
Flake brushes off the concern that people with preexisting conditions won't be able to afford coverage with the most confused, convoluted statement I've heard from this generally plain-speaking guy.
"[I]f we've made the decision, and we have, that pre-existing conditions need to be covered and that that's going to require a big subsidy, then it's better to pay it outright through taxes than it is to put the burden on those who are paying premiums that can't even utilize the insurance. ... We're not saying in any way that you don't cover those with pre-existing conditions. It would just be a different funding mechanism than this cross-subsidization that happens right now. Because that leaves too many Arizonans either high and dry, without insurance because they can't afford it, and they pay the fine, or with insurance that they can't utilize."
If you can, first, understand Flake's word salad, then, second, figure out where he plans to find the money for that "different funding mechanism" he's talking about, well, you're a better person than Flake, because he clearly doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.
Then there's what may be an even bigger test for Republican senators: how to respond to the news about investigations into Trump's Russia connections, which gets worse on a daily, sometimes an hourly, basis. The latest problem is the meeting where Donald Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort sat down with a Russian lawyer after being told the Russian government wanted to help out the Trump campaign. John McCain has been pretty open in his condemnation of the meeting, but then again, McCain isn't up for reelection for a few years. Flake, on the other hand, feels Arizona's far right, "My Trump right or wrong" faction breathing down his neck. He doesn't dare alienate them. So he opted to wimp out
"There is a bipartisan Senate committee and a special counsel looking into that. I am sure they’ll get to the bottom of it," Flake said in a written statement.
Flake could have saved himself 21 words by simply writing, "No comment."
Flake is running right, because he's running scared. And a few Democrats, sensing his panic, are preparing to throw their hats in the senatorial ring. Stay tuned.