An abandonment of "civility and stability."

Disregard for "Mr. Madison's doctrine of the separation of powers."


These were the plagues Sen. Jeff Flake cursed in his floor speech Tuesday night, announcing he would not seek a second term in the U.S. Senate. Flake is correct to condemn these growing problems and to accuse President Trump of trampling on decency, civility, stability, and the separation of powers.

But if you listened to the speech, Flake's attack wasn't ultimately a broadside of the powerful people abusing their power, and his decision to leave the Senate isn't a matter of extracting himself from a corrupt institution.

"When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do," Flake warned, "because of political considerations, because we might make enemies because we might alienate the base because we might provoke a primary challenge … then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations."

These are good and noble sentiments, and all statesmen should hold their jobs with an open hand. All elected officials should value their conscience over popular opinion. But there's the rub. Flake's speech was, ultimately, a condemnation of "the base," which is to say, the electorate.

Donald Trump has exposed that the Republican base is not conservative in the ways Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk are conservative. It's laughably obvious when put that way, but the split between "the base" and the intellectuals of the party had never been displayed so nakedly until 2016.

And so the virtues Flake mourns—decency, separation of powers, civility, and stability—those were on the ballot in 2016, and Republicans voted them out of office. Republican voters chose Trump because of his coarseness, indecency, incivility, and willingness to wield power ruthlessly.

On Twitter, in Iowa, in New Hampshire, and in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, I have found a theme among Trump supporters: They love — even envy -- that he is unfettered. In an age of political correctness, Trump is politically incorrect.

"He tells it like it is," they say. "Coarse" and "uncivil" Flake says.

Obama had just become a super-legislator. He rewrote his own health-care law without congressional approval, and launched a war, again without congressional approval. And so many Republicans, tired of seeing the other team play that game, loved the idea that Trump had little concern for such niceties as the separation of powers.

Most Republicans try to deal with, or lightly cajole the clearly biased media—a media that doesn't only misrepresent Republican politicians but literally and persistently lies about religious people and gun owners. But the base wanted someone who would punch back just as hard.

And after Bill Clinton, accused by Juanita Broaddrick of rape, and who lied under oath about abusing his power to cheat on his wife with an intern half his age, became a beloved celebrity and the official "Rock Star" of the Democratic Party, many Republicans wanted their own Rock Star -- another big man to whom the rules would not apply.

"When you're a star," the future president said "they let you do it. You can do anything."

As catharsis, the base's choice makes sense. As a legislative and political strategy, you can see the logic: Our side loses because we're the chumps who play by the rules while the other guys don't.

Trump's boorish behavior in the debates, his name-calling, his pointless interruptions—that was all demonstration of his status as the alpha dog.

Flake had a response to this mindset: "Such behavior does not project strength -- because our strength comes from our values."

Conservatives built what Flake called the "visionary rules-based world order," and he correctly argued Tuesday that "the beneficiaries of this rather radical departure in the American approach to the world are the ideological enemies of our values."

He was looking internationally when he said that, but he could have been looking across the aisle. The Left is the beneficiary when you expand executive power. The Left is the beneficiary when you corrode discourse and shout down critics.

The base's desire is a base desire, and an inchoate one.

Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's commentary editor, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Tuesday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.