Flake has essentially melded together three distinct critiques of the president. He condemns his intolerance and willingness to demonize minorities. He raps him for his departures from conservative policy dogma. And he argues that Trump’s temperament itself is deeply troublesome.
1) Trump is a nativist: As an immigration reform supporter, Flake naturally objected to Trump’s anti-immigration policy positions and rhetoric. But he really objected to Trump’s campaign trail proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “Just when you think he can’t stoop any lower, he manages to do so,” he said in December 2015, and he opposedTrump’s actual 2017 travel ban as well.
As with many other politically involved Mormons, Flake here draws on his own experience being part of a religious minority group. “When we say ‘No Muslims’ or ‘No Mexicans,’ we may as well say ‘No Mormons.’ Because it is no different,” he writes in the book. He also warns that “extremism” akin to the old racist John Birch Society “is again ascendant in our ranks,” and says “we must condemn it, in no uncertain terms.”
And though Goldwater, Flake’s hero, famously opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“an area of rare disagreement I have with Goldwater,” Flake writes), Flake also recounts how Goldwater condemned the racist conspiracy theorists of the John Birch Society, saying, “We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the conservative banner.”
2) Trump’s economic and foreign policies are insufficiently conservative: Here, Flake criticizes the president from the right for departing from conservative dogma. He mentions especially Trump’s skepticism of free trade (which Flake argues is clearly good policy), as well as Trump’s willingness to advocate for or intimidate specific companies.
Meanwhile, on foreign policy, Flake argues that Trump won’t clearly stand “against oppressive authoritarian regimes around the world,” and that he doesn’t care about the US’s global leadership role. Together, these deviations are so serious, he writes, that Trump’s nomination meant the GOP had “abandoned its core principles.”
3) Trump’s temperament and behavior are seriously flawed: Finally, Flake simply objects to much of Trump’s personal and political style — his overheated rhetoric against opponents, his penchant for conspiracy theories, and his “reckless” tweeting and habit of “flying off the handle.”
Indeed, Flake opens his first full chapter with a provocative analogy to Richard Nixon’s “madman theory,” in which the president deliberately and strategically tried to convince his foreign opponents that he was irrational. “Absent strategy, we are left with no theory, just the madman,” he writes.
Flake also critiques the modern Republican Party for being too negative, destructive, and partisan:Finally, beyond all this, Flake has a larger critique of the Republican Party’s trajectory over the past couple of decades. He criticizes past party leaders like Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay for engaging in the politics of destruction and “petty partisanship” rather than focusing on a constructive agenda.
He even makes a barely veiled critique of his own Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, referring to one of his most infamous statements without naming him: “It was we conservatives who, upon Obama’s election, stated that our number-one priority was not advancing a conservative policy agenda but making Barack Obama a one-term president,” Flake writes.