Flake: Racist language doesn’t make Trump racist

Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake poses for a photo with J. Deal Begay Jr., vice-chairman of the Cocopah Indian Tribe, at a 2016 Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry event. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake says President Donald Trump is guilty of making racist statements, but critics “go too far” when they use those statements to castigate Trump as a racist.

In a wide-ranging interview with Deseret News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Utah newspaper owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Flake was asked about Trump’s recent attacks against “The Squad,” a group of four Democratic women of color serving their first terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Trump called for the women to “go back” where they came from, even though three of them are natural-born citizens, and was subsequently heavily criticized for implying that the women aren’t truly American. 

Deseret News reporter Matthew Brown asked Flake about those comments and why Republicans find it difficult to call them racist. Flake acknowledged that telling people of color to “go back where you came from” is undeniably racist, and one that Hispanics in Arizona have heard “again and again their whole lives, even if they’re sixth, seventh, eighth generation Arizonans.”

He said Republicans should have spoken out against Trump for employing that racist trope, because failing to do so allows racist invective to become “normalized.”

But even though Trump’s words were clearly racist, Flake said it’s not right to call Trump a racist: “But that doesn’t give me or anybody license to say, ‘Well, because of that statement, the president is a racist.’ I think you go too far.” 

Elsewhere in the interview, Flake said a Trump win in 2020 “spells doom long-term for the Republican Party,” likening it to winning a battle before losing the war: “You can drill down on the base, and it may work in an election here or there, but at some point you run out of angry people.”

A contributing factor in that, he added, is that young voters and suburban women are being alienated.

“I think that millennials have been walking away from the Republican Party for a while, along with some suburban women. Now they’re in a dead sprint,” Flake said.

Flake said he won’t vote for Trump in 2020, and although he would consider voting for a third-party candidate as he did in 2016, he said he’s more likely to vote for “a responsible Democrat.” He said his favored candidates among the Democrats are Michael Bennet, whom he worked closely with in the U.S. Senate; Cory Booker, who he says “has downplayed a lot of his bipartisanship”; Amy Klobuchar, another senator he worked with on several issues; and Joe Biden.

Of Biden, Flake said he has appreciated the former vice president’s talk about working across the aisle.

“That’s not what primary voters want to hear. But it’s what the country needs to hear because it’s true. I wish we had a Republican candidate who would say the same,” he said.


  1. As Flake’s mirror tells: “Your regularly asinine statements show you are an ass! This is supported by your repeatedly gutless actions, and your failures to act on behalf of the poor & working class, persons of color, & those already suffering societal discriminations”.
    The latter are seen in your statement that Trump’s repeated racist statements do not suffice to find he is a racist, nor do his policies favoring rich white men show he favors rich white men. Really…!

  2. I am not a Republican, but I have some respect for Senator Flake, but this is a bit crazy. Even politicians misspeak from time to time. Racists are defined by a language, unless one takes the view that only people who show up in lynch mobs are racists. I think this got the headline and the lead because people will be attracted to the story — but the real question is whether the Republican party is shedding young people and women, and if they will unify under a Democratic candidate. If the Democratic party remains splintered, Trump, who runs on hate and feeds insecurity, can will again. I am afraid Mr. Biden will be the nominee, and I also fear many will turn away from him.

  3. BERNIE is the tried & true candidate and his years of working for all of us makes him the best candidate for the Presidency of our USA!!! JCT, The Button Lady!!!

  4. The new book How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi makes the point that “racist” is a descriptive word, not a slur. His book discusses the history of racism, how culture promotes it, and how to combat it. Equity among people is the goal.
    It doesn’t matter whether Trump is labeled a racist. His comments show that he believes in white superiority. Isn’t that enough to show his character?


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