This past Monday, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) visited the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College to give a talk entitled “After the Deluge: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.” Flake’s visit to Saint Anselm College, a favorite stop for any presidential hopeful, came in the midst of an ugly battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In his speech, Flake lamented the damage that tribalism has done to the United States under President Trump.
“Tribalism is ruining us,” Flake announced to the crowded auditorium, “It is tearing our country apart. It is no way for sane adults to act.”
Some students in attendance agreed with Flake’s message of bipartisanship. Tim Madsen ’19, Chairman of the Saint Anselm College Republicans, expressed his own opinion of Flake’s visit, saying, “He was calling for more civility and bipartisanship in government, something that is certainly a good thing.”
Emily Prud’homme ’19, an International Relations major, also attended the event and shared her thoughts on Flake’s rhetoric: “He gave a thoughtful speech about building bridges between party lines and uniting together as an American people. His message was that sometimes you must fail your tribe to achieve the greater good.”
Flake went on to say that “the only tribe to which we owe allegiance is the American tribe.”
Sean Connor ’20, a Communications major, said he was skeptical of some parts of Flake’s speech. “I think that Senator Flake blurred the line between when it is right to go against partisan lines and when it becomes deconstructive towards progress as a whole. I really respect Senator Flake and his work, but I think that if he wants us to return to his vision of civility, he needs to stop seeing his party as a tribe he is looking forward to disappointing, and more as a people he hopes to work with to a better tomorrow.”
Indeed, Senator Flake remarked that he had failed his tribe, the Republican Party, but said that he hopes to continue to do so and preached a message rooted in the importance of compromise.
He briefly discussed his friendship and working relationship with Senator Chris Coons (D-DE). Coons and Flake gained notoriety when they struck a deal shortly before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote to advance Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. Flake demanded that the FBI reopen the background check investigation into Kavanaugh in light of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault.
Saint Anselm students had mixed reactions to Flake’s vote to conditionally pass Kavanaugh on to the full Senate. Prud’homme disagreed with Flake, saying, “I do not agree with his decision to vote with the Republicans. I recognize the complexity of the situation – that this claim of sexual assault occurred when Ford and Kavanaugh were very young.” She continued, “However, sexual assault cannot be undermined no matter how many years pass . . . Denying him would send a message that our country and government is not tolerant of this type of conduct,.”
Hayley Morgan ’20, said, “I didn’t really enjoy the fact he voted for Kavanaugh, but I respected how he used his position in this matter to call for an FBI investigation.” Morgan also attended the protest, saying she did so “because I believe that even if Judge Kavanaugh is innocent of the allegations against him, he has proven that he does not have the temperament to have a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”
Haley Bragdon-Clements ’21, the Vice President of the Saint Anselm College Democrats, said, “I applaud how Senator Flake handled this matter, and I wish that other Republicans had taken the same initiative. I hope to see people on both sides of the aisle coming together and treating this as a nonpartisan issue as how this is handled will set a tone for how this issue is addressed in the future.
Across the street from the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, people voiced their contempt for the Kavanaugh nomination. Nearly 130 protesters, including students, gathered together in protest of Senator Flake and to urge him not to vote in favor of Kavanaugh come time for the full Senate vote.
Molly Benson ’20, a Nursing major, attended the protest. “As a student, I hope this sent a message that if sexual assault is not welcome on this campus, it absolutely should not be welcome or rewarding in the highest court in our country,” she said. “If this Senate confirms Kavanaugh, they are setting a precedent that if survivors of sexual assault come forward, abusers will not be held accountable.”
At the end of his speech, Flake did not take questions from the audience, which is unusual compared to other NHIOP events.
Sean Connor, ’20, remarked that he was not surprised by this change. “I think given the events of the last week, the best way to control that environment was to avoid a questions and answers session. It’s easy for events like this to turn into chaos.”
After his remarks, Flake was immediately swarmed by reporters from various outlets. The senator made it known that he is waiting for the results of the FBI investigation before deciding whether or not to vote in favor of Kavanaugh.