Former Senator Jeff Flake says America can heal after difficult year

Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-10 18:19:05-04

The next presidential debate may be less than a week away, but if you're like most Americans, you're in no rush to see a repeat of what we saw the last time President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden got together on stage.

Although this time, the debate will be virtual, and President Trump announced early Thursday he had no plans to participate.

Former Senator Jeff Flake talks election, direction of Republican Party

"Watching the debate the other night, it was just a painful experience and was just another example of where our politics have gone," explains former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.

And if anybody knows about how brutal politics can be, it's the former Republican Senator, who was frequently blasted by President Trump for going against him.

"You never want to be criticized by the most powerful man in the world, but the alternative would be agreeing with him...When I was considering whether to run for re-election, one of the things that stood out to me was I knew I would have to stand on a campaign stage with the President and laughed or looked at my shoes while he criticized my colleagues or ridiculed minorities and made fun of people I respected and I couldn't do it. It would have been uncomfortable to be on the campaign stage and looking at my shoes or not applaud, but the alternative was going along with it. And then having to go home and face your kids."

And for Flake, it also meant not running for re-election in 2018. Flake admits it wasn't easy leaving Capitol Hill behind.

"The Senate is a wonderful place. I love the policy. I love representing the state of Arizona. I would have liked to have done it for at least another term. I believe I could have won the race, but that would have required me to change positions that I've held for my lifetime... And it was the right decision then and it's still the right decision. There are more important things than having a title of Senator. And I sleep well at night."

But something that does cause a lot of us to lose sleep -- how divided our country feels right now. Flake says he doesn't think civility is a distant memory and he believes we can unite once again.

ABC15's Nick Ciletti asked Flake how he thinks the country can come together and heal.

"One thing I do know is that we have been through worse before. We have come out of it. And that was before social media, and that makes it more difficult, given the backdrop, but we will get by it because we have to. We have faced a lot of big challenges in the country and I am not discounting this challenge, but we will get by it. People will rise up. The first thing we need is good leadership. And leaders that model better behavior we have seen recently, not just in the White House, but elsewhere in government. And we can have that, and people will rally to it."