WASHINGTON - A first-term conservative lawmaker has announced his abrupt retirement from the U.S. Senate, saying he wants no part of a Donald Trump-led Republican party marked by what he called reckless, abnormal, undignified and un-American behaviour.
Jeff Flake of Arizona admitted that he faced an uphill battle for the nomination next year, given the target on his back because of his frequent criticisms of a president beloved by the party's rank-and-file.
He urged colleagues to show some courage and speak out against an erratic president, whose policies he called a betrayal of core Republican beliefs like free trade, immigration, and the international institutions America helped build after the Second World War.
"When the next generation asks us, 'Why didn't you do something? Why didn't you speak up?' what are we going to say?" said Flake, a Mormon former head of a conservative-libertarian think tank.
"I rise to say, 'Enough.' We have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner... We all know better than that."
Flake urged colleagues not to be complicit in condoning "reckless, outrageous, undignified" behaviours from "the top of our government": "They are not normal," Flake said. "Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent."
The resignation came at an ironic moment.
The president spent the first part of the day embroiled in a Twitter war against the last Republican to announce his Senate departure. Since announcing he was leaving, Bob Corker has been warning that Trump's erratic behaviour could cause a Third World War.
Trump responded on Twitter by calling Corker a "lightweight," and "liddle Bob Corker."
The pro-Trump nationalist wing of the GOP celebrated its latest political scalping. With Corker gone, and Flake leaving, and some urging John McCain to step aside while he battles cancer, the insurgents celebrated their increasing control of the party.
The headline on the Breitbart website was, "Winning: Flake Out." That site is run by Steve Bannon, the bomb-throwing nationalist who went from a White House position to working to overthrow the party establishment.
The White House danced on Flake's political grave. Asked about the resignation, presidential spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: "Based on previous statements, and based on the lack of support he has from the people of Arizona, it's probably a good move."
Bannon has already successfully backed an extreme, anti-gay, twice-fired judge who last month illustrated his support for gun rights by carrying one on stage while wearing a cowboy hat. That candidate, Roy Moore, won the party's nomination for a senate race in Alabama.
The Republicans hold a narrow lead in Senate seats and are unlikely to lose the chamber in next year's election. The electoral calendar is extremely favourable to the party, with two-thirds of seats up for election next year belonging to Democrats.
Democrats hope they might take back the other chamber.
More traditional conservatives lamented Tuesday's developments. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said, "We've just witnessed a speech from a very fine man." Scott Lincicome, a pro-free-trader at the libertarian Cato Institute, tweeted, "Maybe this is just a horrible blip, or maybe the GOP really is beyond saving."
Flake finished his resignation speech on a hopeful note.
"It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party," he said.
"It is also clear to me for the moment that we have given up our core principles in favour of a more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment... Anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy...
"(But) this spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more. And I say the sooner, the better."