NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Recently retired Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake on Thursday vowed not to vote for President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, but added that he hopes Trump doesn't get impeached before the president's first term is up.
Flake made the remarks while in Nashville to discuss Trump, politics and promote his new book.
"I would hate to see him impeached," Flake said. "I've been in too many countries where the cycle that you get into was not to say we're going to win the next election, we didn't do well on this one; but to say we're just going to disqualify our opponent."
Flake then clarified he would support impeachment if qualifying evidence came forward about Trump and possible ties to Russia or some other potential political scandal.
Flake has long been one of the most prominent Republicans to clash with Trump, often engaging with the president while still in office. Those actions have resulted in fiery tweets from Trump on a number of issues.
However, on Thursday, Flake used his time to also encourage the Republican Party to return to some of its more traditional core values — such as limited government, free trade and lower taxes — in order to continue staying viable and attractive to a younger generation.
Particularly, he urged Republicans to call out racism and keep each other accountable in light of Republican Rep. Steve King's comments about white supremacy. King's racist comments have been widely condemned by members of both parties since the nine-term Iowa congressman made the comments earlier this month.
"I certainly would hope we find a primary opponent for Steve King," Flake said. "Barring that, I openly cheer for his Democratic opponent."
Flake had been hinting at a possible 2020 challenge to Trump, even after his opposition to the president hurt his re-election chances so badly he decided not to run for another term this year. However, in late 2018, Flake told CNN he wouldn't likely be the candidate to challenge Trump in a GOP primary election.
Flake was not asked about his political aspirations for 2020 during Thursday's speech.
He has repeatedly attacked Trump for his policies, uncivil language and tweets and repeatedly urged fellow Republicans not to blindly follow the president. In 2017, he slammed Trump in a book that helped torpedo his re-election hopes, but he's remained a growing national voice and appears set on maintaining it even after retiring from the Senate.
Similarly, Tennessee's fellow newly retired U.S. Sen. Bob Corker has also spoken out against the president. While Corker spoke out fewer times than Flake, it was Corker's description of the White House as an "adult day care center" that particularly rankled the president, who dubbed him "Liddle' Bob Corker." Most recently, Corker blamed the partial federal government shutdown entirely on Trump.
Like Flake, Corker has also been rumored as a possible presidential candidate for 2020.