As It Happens·Q&A

Former Republican senator 'sickened' by Trump's false claims of election fraud

Donald Trump is questioning the integrity of the U.S. election. That has members of his own party saying it's become necessary to defend the world's oldest democracy from their sitting president.

'I think it will come to an end, but it'll be messy in the meantime,' says former Rep. senator Jeff Flake

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak about the 2020 U.S. presidential election results on Thursday, where he falsely claimed his opponents had rigged the results against him. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Read Story Transcript

Donald Trump has every right to ask for recounts and to contest election results, but he does a disservice to all Americans when he "casts a pall over the entire election," says a former Republican senator. 

During a White House press conference on Thursday night, the president made unfounded claims that his opponents were trying to "steal" the election from him, and falsely stated that mail-in ballots still being counted in several states are "illegal votes" that were cast after election day. 

CNN's Daniel Dale, a Canadian reporter who has built a career out of fact-checking Trump, called it  "the most dishonest speech of his presidency."

When Jeff Flake, a former Republican Senator for Arizona, heard Trump's remarks, he tweeted: "No Republican should be okay with the President's statements just now."

Here is part of Flake's conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

What was going through your mind while you were listening to what [Trump] had to say yesterday?

He telegraphed this months ago, I should say, saying that any campaign, any election that he didn't win, would be fraudulent. So I guess we shouldn't be surprised. But to hear that from the president of the United States at the White House is just jarring.

So I think we were all sickened by it.

Some of the U.S. networks pulled the plug on the speech.... Do you think that was appropriate?

I'd rather have more transparency than less, so I think that people needed to see that. And frankly, if the president does lose, which it looks like he's on the road to losing, it'll be easier for Republicans to move beyond him.

Donald Trump repeats false voter fraud claims

2 years ago
Duration 5:08
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Thursday that Democrats could 'try to steal the election from us' if 'illegal votes' cast after election day were counted. There is no evidence to back up any of his claims.    

But where are you seeing or hearing Republicans who are trying to move on from this ... besides yourself and few others [who are] condemning the president for having made these remarks?

There are far too few. But I think if he goes on like this, when it becomes apparent to everybody else that the election hasn't gone his way, then enough Americans, I think, and enough Republicans, will say, "All right, we're tired of this. Let's move on."

The president is fully within his rights to contest and to call for a recount. And if there are specific allegations of fraud, bring them forward. But just to cast a pall over the entire election and to say that people cheated and that it's a fraud is just certainly unbecoming of the president of the United States.

He's not in control here. And if he's expecting elected officials ... or others to come to his aid if he hasn't won a genuine election, he's wrong. They won't. Nor will the courts step in on his behalf.- Jeff Flake, former senator 

As you point out, Mr. Trump started to say this many months ago. And it does seem to be that there's a kind of a script running, and that what he's saying is that now he has evidence, he's going to challenge it in court, it's going to end up possibly in the Supreme Court, which is what he's been saying even as he chose a justice to sit on that court. And so do you think ... he's just throwing things out, do you think that there is actually a strategy behind this?

He seems to be just throwing it all at the wall to see what sticks. Gratefully — and here's the good news — the institutions of government are strong.

As much as he would like to control elections that are controlled by states, he can't. While he can sue and he can allege malpractice somehow, that has to be proven.

So he's not in control here. And if he's expecting elected officials like [Senate majority leader] Mitch McConnell or others to come to his aid if he hasn't won a genuine election, he's wrong. They won't. Nor will the courts step in on his behalf.

So I think it will come to an end, but it'll be messy in the meantime.

I know you wrote last night that no Republican should be OK with the president's statements right now. But what do you say to Mitch McConnell or [Sen.] Lindsey Graham, who responded by saying [they] stand with President Trump?

Mitch McConnell did not say that. Lindsey did, and walked back a little today. But gratefully, Mitch McConnell has not said that. [McConnell] said that [Trump] is entitled to legal remedies if he can allege, you know, certain malfeasance. 

If Mitch McConnell or Lindsey Graham is stepping back, or [are] sort of not as strongly supportive of Mr. Trump, is it because they realize this is too extreme what he said yesterday, or do they see him diminished as he possibly loses this election?

Both. And I think, frankly, my former colleagues had higher aspirations when they got to the Senate than to defend the president's tweets and to go through this drama. They wanted to legislate. The Senate has been known as the most deliberative body in the world, and it hasn't been in this Trump era. And most of my colleagues would like to move beyond this.

They also know that Trumpism is not the future of the party. We have to be far more inclusive. We have to appeal to a broader electorate. And Trumpism really isn't a philosophy; it's more of an attitude. And it's just not the future. I think that most of my colleagues know that, and you'll see them coming out as it looks as if the president has lost.

Former Republican senator Jeff Flake says he believes his part will move on from 'Trumpism.' (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

How do you feel when you see that Republicans would now come out only because they see him defeated?

For me, I just knew that when I came time for me to run for re-election, I had to decide, you know, if I want to be successful, given the way our party is right now or has been, I would have to cozy up to the president and agree with certain policies that I couldn't agree with and condone behaviour I certainly couldn't condone. And I knew I'd have to stand on a campaign stage with him while he belittled my colleagues and made fun of minorities. I just couldn't do it.

But you paid a price for making that stand, for knowing you couldn't stand on the stage as he belittled your colleagues, and yet your Republican colleagues did. So how do you feel about them now? I mean, what's your visceral feeling about Republicans who are only now able to say Mr. Trump is wrong?

Everybody has to follow their own conscience, and I don't begrudge them for doing what they've done. They're still friends.

The important thing is we move ahead. And we have a divided government, which is usually the best government. And we have somebody, I think, who will be in the White House that, you know, has been there before in terms of the need to compromise.

We're likely to have a government moving ahead that is steady and civil and boring — and as conservative, that's the way I like my government.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?