SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Jeff Flake would prefer a Democrat in the White House who works to bring decency to politics and recognizes the virtue of compromise over President Donald Trump.
"If there is a Democrat who would restore those values, yes," the Arizona Republican said Friday in response to a reporter's question.
"I don't think we can ever say 'my party, right or wrong.' Some of the positions that the president has taken and some of the behavior he's exhibited I think are not conservative and shouldn't be Republican," Flake told the Deseret News.
Flake, a vocal critic of Trump, spoke to the BYU Management Society in Salt Lake City. He is a BYU graduate and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the Provo-based university.
Last year, Flake, who isn't seeking re-election, wrote a $100 check for Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones in his race against Trump-endorsed Republican Roy Moore.
Flake, 55, said he worries about the direction of the Republican Party, and will continue to speak out after he leaves office in January.
"I do hope that somebody does run in the primary against the president. This is his party right now, that's plain. But it won't always be. Two years from now I hope it gives way to someone else," he said.
He mentioned Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse as possible GOP challengers.
As for running for president himself, Flake said he has not ruled it out, "but that's not in the plans."
Referencing the speech he gave after deciding not to run again, Flake said Americans can't accept as normal the continued degradation of politics and the conduct in the executive branch.
"Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused in countenance as telling it like it is, when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified," he said.
Flake said when that conduct comes from the top of the government, it's "dangerous to a democracy." He said it doesn't project strength but a "corruption of the spirit" and a "moral vandalism."
After his speech, Flake said he's not among those who believe Trump's behavior warrants impeachment. He said he hopes "for the country's sake" Congress doesn't go that direction because it would lead to an endless cycle of trying to disqualify opponents rather than defeat them at the ballot box.
Flake shared several personal stories about civility and the lack of civility in politics.
During a Senate debate on his amendment to lift the U.S. travel ban to Cuba, a Republican colleague — many Republicans opposed the measure — said all Flake wanted to do was drink mojitos on the beach. A Democrat moved to have the comment stricken from the record.
When Flake asked why he did that, the senator replied, "Aw, Flake. I know you're Mormon. I know you don't drink. I was just protecting your honor."
That kind of magnanimity across the aisle is rare in the "shirts and skins" environment of Congress, Flake said.
Flake, who served 12 years in the House before winning the Senate seat, has heard vitriol from his own party for simply being nice to Democrats.
When former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords attended her first State of the Union speech after being shot, Flake sat next to her and helped her stand during former President Barack Obama's "applause" lines, making him the lone Republican on his feet in a sea of Democrats.
Flake said he received "furious" text messages from fellow Republicans.
"They didn't see it as a kind gesture. They saw it as consorting with the enemy," he said.108 comments on this story
A congratulatory tweet to Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine on being chosen as Hillary Clinton's running mate in 2016 also drew Republican wrath that Flake described as "unhinged, irrational fury."
"That is the kind of conditioned response we have to a shattered politics," Flake said.
Flake said he would have liked to serve another term in the Senate but not in the current environment.
"I think sometimes pendulums do swing, and sometimes with a vengeance," he said. "I do think in the end this fever will break and we'll be ourselves again."