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Sen. Jeff Flake dings Trump's character again — while defending many of his policies

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Capitol Hill last week
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Capitol Hill last week
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) made news this week when he compared the Trump presidency to a "biblical flood" and urged Republicans to take a stand against him.

On NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, he took a slightly softer tone in his criticism of the president, describing him a damaging figure who is leading the Republican Party astray.

However, Sen. Flake also went on to defend Trump's legislative agenda and his "good instincts" on issues like tax reform.

Flake has gotten much praise for making the case against Trump, both in a new book, Conscience of a Conservative, and in a related opinion piece. But liberal commentators have raised the question of why someone who takes such a dim view of the president votes with him more than 90 percent of the time.

On Meet the Press, Flake clarified that his disapproval of the president has to do with his character, his erratic pronouncements, and what Flake sees as xenophobic tendencies. "A conservative is steady, measured and sober, and I think that is lacking right now," Flake said. "We have to change course in that regard."

Flake believes Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric will hurt the GOP in the long run, given that the United States is on its way to become a minority-majority nation. The president's travel ban and his intention to limit legal immigration won't be good for the party either, he said: "I don’t think those issues are going to propel Republicans into the future.”

Flake said he didn't believe the travel ban was good for America's national security. During the presidential campaign, Flake spoke out against the anti-Muslim rhetoric, comparing it to attacks against Mormonism (Flake is Mormon). He elaborates on that parallel in his new book.

Flake also suggested that Trump is not a true conservative when it comes to foreign policy, as he keeps American allies guessing about US commitments.

Despite Flake's list of concerns, he didn't make clear what he thought Republicans should do about Trump’s disturbing traits, other than to speak out against them. And when the show's host, Chuck Todd, pressed Flake about his Trump-aligned voter record, Flake softened his commentary even more.

He said he didn’t have many disagreements with the president's legislative agenda — immigration aside. He approved of the president's nominees for the federal bench, he said he thought Trump was "on the right track" in his push to deregulate businesses, and he said he believes that the president has "good instincts" on tax reform.

The only issues he expects to clash with the president include any scenario in which Trump tries to limit free trade or legal immigration.

"I’ll vote with the president when I think he’s right, and I’ll vote against him when I think he’s wrong," Flake said.

In other words, don’t count Sen. Flake as part of “the resistance” quite yet.