WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeff Flake's dramatic denunciation of President Trump and the anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party is unlikely to start a wave of similar speeches from other Republicans.
In fact, very few in the party have seconded Flake's Tuesday rebuke when he announced on the Senate floor he would not run for re-election in 2018.
At least one GOP Senate incumbent who is being targeted by Trump's allies seemed more anxious to publicly defend the president.
"I think most of us in the conference are very comfortable with the direction that this chief executive of our nation and this head of our party wants to take us," said Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, a Republican target of the anti-establishment wing led by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. He added that Flake's criticisms of the president have been "quite provocative."
Andrew Surabian, a senior adviser to Great America Alliance, a Trump-aligned advocacy group and an ally of Bannon's, said that Republicans like Wicker were just pretending to support Trump to get re-elected.
“We’re trying to replace the phonies in the Senate who only pretend to support the president and his America First Agenda when it is politically expedient to do so, but would turn their backs on the president the moment they no longer need him to get re-elected,” Surabian said.
Other Republican senators expressed sadness at Flake’s departure but declined to elaborate on whether he was speaking truths about the president and the state of the party.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz even squeezed through a cluster of reporters and lawmakers at the Capitol to make it into a closing elevator, rather than answer a reporter who asked what Flake’s resignation meant to the party.
Cruz — a conservative who has made nice with the president after a rough GOP presidential primary — is the only Republican up for re-election in 2018 who the anti-establishment crew isn’t expected to challenge.
When a reporter asked Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota whether Flake’s resignation made him worry about the “Bannon effect,” Rounds responded: “I just think (Flake) is one of these really good guys.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham said even though he shared some of Flake’s concerns he wasn’t going to dwell on them. “The election is over. I’m focused on results and that’s why I’m here. I’d rather not be a constant critic,” Graham said, according to a HuffPost reporter.
The South Carolina senator went after the president during the GOP presidential primary and has occasionally criticized him since Trump has been in office. Graham ran for the nomination but dropped out early on after he wasn’t able to attract any significant support. But recently the two seem to be getting along better, Graham gushed over Trump’s golf game after the two hit the course earlier this month.
Trump on Wednesday pointed to the standing ovations he received during his lunch with Republican senators Tuesday at the Capitol to say Flake’s colleagues were with him rather than the Arizona senator.
“The party is slowly descending into complete Trumpism without a fight,” Tim Miller, a former spokesman for former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign and a vocal "Never Trumper" told USA TODAY. “This is how we got Trump, by a lot of elected officials pretending they’re something they’re not.”
Miller said he had “no faith” that lawmakers would start standing up to Trump.
Flake’s departure is not the first blow to the traditional wing of the Republican Party. His retirement announcement follows that of Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who announced last month that he would be retiring.
In September, Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, a sitting senator, was defeated in the Republican primary by Judge Roy Moore, a controversial candidate backed by Bannon.
Moore has been extremely critical of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. While Strange had been endorsed by Trump, Moore ran as an ally of the president’s. Strange’s resounding loss sent chills through the establishment wing of the GOP and boosted the confidence of Bannon and his allies.
Flake has a handful of GOP allies who have been consistently critical of Trump, but none are up for re-election in 2018.
Corker has been one of Trump’s fiercest critics and has taken to referring to the White House as an adult day care center and said Trump is an “utterly untruthful president.” Yet, Corker’s feud with Trump heated up only after he decided he would retire at the end of his term. In fact, Corker had been an ally of Trump's early on and was considered as Trump’s running mate and secretary of State
Fellow Arizona Sen. John McCain hasn’t hesitated to go after Trump, particularly on foreign and military policy, but he just won an election and is 81 years old with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a conservative known for his quips on Twitter, has knocked the president over a variety of statements and policies, but Sasse isn’t up for re-election until 2020.
He also avoids talking with reporters in the Senate hallway — a habit of Graham, Corker and McCain's. Sasse also isn't regularly on TV unless he has a specific message he wants to put out so he has avoided some of Trump's anger.
Photos: Jeff Flake through the years