Political News

The Republican civil war, explained in 1 amazing picture

Posted December 6, 2017 8:42 a.m. EST

— On Tuesday, a group of senators traveled to the White House to have lunch with President Donald Trump. In a classic Trumpian power move, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who has been one of the most outspoken Republican critics of Trump, was seated directly next to the President.

Which brings us to this amazing photo -- snapped by AFP's Saul Loeb:

That photo tells you literally everything you need to know about the current fracture within the Republican Party.

Trump, in the foreground, is out of focus but it's clear he is talking. When Trump did talk before lunch with the senators on Tuesday, he defended his decision to endorse controversial Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore of Alabama. (Hours later, Flake cut a $100 check to Moore's Democratic opponent Doug Jones.)

Flake is in the background but in focus -- the look on his face clear. And what is that look saying? Something like "What the hell is this guy talking about?" Or "How did we get here?" Or "WTF!"

Flake is bemused. Or stunned. Or skeptical. Or angry. But, what he isn't is happy.

The photo serves as a reminder that Trump conducted a hostile takeover of the Republican Party in 2016. He was accepted only when it became clear that those who didn't want him couldn't stop him.

Contrary to the prevailing conventional wisdom, the Trump takeover wasn't terribly ideological. It was more insider versus outsider. No one thinks of Mitch McConnell or Flake as moderates. (Flake had a 96% lifetime rating from the Club For Growth.) Trump cast himself as the ultimate outsider, the un-politician. He didn't really position himself as the one, true conservative -- with notable exceptions like the promise to build the border wall.

Once Trump won, any hope that he would evolve into a more standard-issue politician evaporated quickly. And, with it, the hopes of people like Flake that Trump would be someone they could find ways to work with evaporated.

Flake's opposition to Trump -- and willingness to call out the President -- effectively cost him his Senate seat. His poll numbers plummeted amid the release of a book in which he castigated his own party for its willingness to welcome Trump with open arms. He bowed to that reality earlier this fall when he announced he wouldn't run again.

And yet, even with all that water under the bridge, Flake still seems totally stunned/amazing/appalled by Trump. That I-can't-believe-this-guy look on Flake's face speaks volumes about what Trump has done to the party. He has seized it by the throat and not let go. And the party is still reeling.