In commenting on Sen. Jeff Flake's announcement that he was retiring rather than seeking a second term in the Senate, Ben Domenech of the Federalist wrote that Flake's "brand changed dramatically."
I take a different view: Flake, R-Ariz., in his 12 years in the House and five years in the Senate has taken consistent views. His strong free-market conservatism on economic issues led him to oppose former President George W. Bush's Medicare prescription drug bill and TARP legislation, as well as the 2001-02 No Child Left Behind bill. He supported "comprehensive" immigration legislation in the House (for which John Boehner booted him from the Judiciary Committee) and in the Senate (as a member of the "Gang of Eight").
Domenech's point is that he bucked the Republican leadership in the House and not in the Senate, but in both cases he was acting in accordance with his own principles. Which are in line with the principles of those of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints and the great bulk of its believers.
Flake is from a pioneer Mormon family: his great-grandfather William Jordan Flake, together with William Snow, founded the Mormon town of Snowflake, Arizona in 1878 (it's up in the mountains and it does snow there). He graduated from Brigham Young University, an LDS school, and served as an LDS missionary in South Africa. His district residence is in Mesa, the huge (population over 450,000) suburban city east of Phoenix in the Valley of the Sun, which was founded by LDS pioneers at almost exactly the same time as Snowflake.
As voters, members of the LDS Church tend to be Republicans, free market on economics, conservative on such cultural issues as abortion, but also sympathetic to immigrants. These are all Jeff Flake's positions.
The Church prides itself on the language skills of its former missionaries (former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Mitt Romney in French), and majority-Mormon Utah promotes itself as a welcoming home for branches of foreign-owned businesses, in part because there will be local people fluent in the native languages of foreign managers.
Utah voters, much like Flake, have been largely resistant to the charms of President Trump. As I noted in March 2016, Trump's appeal has been weakest among people with high degrees of what social scientist Robert Putnam calls social connectedness, and no identifiable group of Americans has higher social connectedness than members of the LDS Church.
In its March 22 caucuses, Utah Republicans gave only 14 percent of their votes to Trump; far behind Ted Cruz's 69 percent and trailing even John Kasich's 17 percent. Trump's 13.82 percent was barely higher than the 13.77 he got in the District of Columbia and his 13.80 percent in Puerto Rico. In the 2016 general election, Trump carried Utah, but with only 45 percent of the vote, as Independent Evan McMullin, an LDS Church member and Brigham Young graduate, got 21 percent, almost as much as Hillary Clinton's 27 percent. Trump's 45 percent was far behind Mitt Romney's 73 percent in the state, and indeed was fractionally lower than the 45 percent Barry Goldwater got there in 1964.
Flake has taken serious electoral risks in sticking to his guns in both the House and the Senate. When he ran for re-election in 2006, after renouncing a three-term-limit pledge, he was opposed by local mayors who said he wasn't bringing them pork barrel spending. When he ran for the Senate in 2012, his position on immigration may account for the fact that he won the general election by only 49 to 46 percent, even as Mitt Romney was carrying Arizona 53 to 44 percent.
Since November 2016, Flake's criticisms of Trump have antagonized many Arizona Republicans, while his conservative stands on economic issues has prevented him from getting any perceptible support from Arizona Democrats. An August poll showed him trailing Kelli Ward in the Republican primary by a 47 to 21 percent margin; Ward, who seems to be something of an odd bird and has the support of former Trump aide Steve Bannon, held John McCain to a 51 to 40 percent margin in the 2016 Republican primary.
Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, an announced Senate candidate, is obviously a formidable general election candidate, in a state that Trump carried by only a three-point margin. In announcing he would not run, Flake recognized that he didn't have a path forward in Arizona as a Republican.
All of which leads me to conclude: Jeff Flake is Senator from the wrong state. He would have been a perfect fit as a Senator from Utah.