Cast Away—The story of Jeff Flake

Jeff Flake sacrificed his political career to defy the GOP and President Donald Trump. So why is this man smiling?

Former United States Senator Jeff Flake at his home in Mesa.; /Photography by Steve Craft 

By Stephen Lemons | PHOENIX magazine

Seated in the midst of his still-unfurnished single-family home in Mesa, a cellphone to his ear, Jeff Flake is speaking to someone about the economic situation in Cuba as his wife of 35 years, Cheryl, apologizes to a reporter for her hair looking a mess. 

It doesn’t look a mess, by the way, but she does seem a bit harried. Which is understandable, given the Flakes just moved into this modest dwelling in a gated community, having returned home to the East Valley from Massachusetts, where the couple had been living while the former U.S. Senator taught a course at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government during the fall semester.

Flake’s smile is as white as the blank walls of the open living, dining and kitchen area he’s in. He nods, indicating that the phone conversation is nearing an end. Mrs. Flake darts off to another room. A young man, one of Flake’s five children, briefly emerges with a power drill, then disappears. The drill buzzes in the background intermittently.

Flake, free from his call, seems unperturbed, relaxed, the very picture of suburban sangfroid, dressed in gray slacks and a blue-striped shirt, the collar open and the sleeves rolled up. It’s late November and the weather outside is mild and sunny, not unlike Flake’s disposition.

Flake in shirtless survivor mode, in 2009; /Photo courtesy Flake family

No wonder: He and his wife – now officially empty nesters, with youngest child Dallin graduating from Mountain View High School in 2018 – escaped Harvard just as the temperature was nudging into the 30s, with the “spring” semester still to come in January. “They call it spring, it’s really winter,” Flake says. “Who are they kidding? But the fall is gorgeous there.”

The theme of the course was of Flake’s making, and right up his alley: the future of conservatism, or if there is one. He drew heavily on his 2017 book, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.

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