''Nobody knows who the hell he is," was the way Donald Trump described Jeff Flake, junior senator from Arizona, during a recent rally in Phoenix.
But with this book, which is being touted by the national media as an attack on President Trump from within, that's no longer the case. In fact, given the frequency of positive feature articles - two in one recent issue, complete with flattering photos - he may be The New York Times' favorite Republican senator.
Few outside of Arizona may have known who he was during his 17-year career in the House and Senate, where he made his mark primarily as a champion of the anti-earmark fad, which many believe did more harm than good. His larger legislative efforts have come in areas such as immigration reform, but his views on border security and crime are not popular among his Arizona constituents.
He's up for reelection in 2018, riding low in the polls, in trouble with conservatives, and has primary challengers. So in a very real sense this book is a political Hail Mary, aimed at invoking the posthumous blessing of Barry Goldwater, whose book title he appropriates.
In 1960, after discussions among conservative members of the brain trust clustered around William F. Buckley's National Review, it was decided that Barry Goldwater be asked to give his name to a book explicating the basic principles undergirding the growing new conservative movement.
L. Brent Bozell - senior editor at National Review, Bill Buckley's friend, brother-in-law and co-author with Buckley of "McCarthy and his Enemies" (1954) - accepted the assignment and turned out a 140-page document that succinctly blended conservative principle with politics.
As the story has it, Goldwater spent 10 minutes or so leafing through Bozell's document, then agreed to give it his name. The title: "The Conscience of a Conservative." Its national success surpassed all expectations, making all the best-seller lists, selling especially well among college students, and playing a key role in Goldwater's capture of the 1964 presidential nomination.
It would eventually sell three and a half million copies.
And now we have Sen. Flake's effort, bearing the same title and leaving many people genuinely puzzled as to how he's able to take the title of an existing work and make it his own. No doubt there was a special arrangement with the Goldwater Institute, where he once worked. But that's not made clear.
Abstruse matters such as literary piracy aside, however, there is general outrage on the part of many established conservatives, among them L. Brent Bozell lll, founder of the Media Research Center and son of Goldwater's ghost-writer.
"Jeff Flake is neither conservative nor does he have a conscience," writes Mr. Bozell. "My father would be appalled to see this fraud as the author of the so-called 'sequel' which it most certainly is not."
What is it, then? For one thing, a collection of nostrums sprinkled with truisms and admonitions emphasizing the obvious. "We must reaffirm our devotion to the rule of law," for instance.
Frequently, these admonitions expand into obvious Trump criticisms: "We must recognize that government and the process [of] electing our leaders ought never be confused for entertainment or graded for its entertainment value or its ratings. We degrade our politics enough without turning our democracy over to carnival barkers and reality television."
Or this: In the election of 2016, "we pretended the emperor wasn't naked Even worse: We checked our critical faculties at the door and pretended the emperor was making sense." As a result, our politics have been "compromised by a decidedly unconservative stew of celebrity and authoritarianism."
Much of the book follows this pattern, scolding his fellow Republicans for electing Donald Trump, and in the process feeding opposition researchers valuable attack material. It's this material that commentators have understandably focused on. But there are about 20 pages that suggest there's another - and better - book trying to get out.
It's the story of a 5th generation Arizonan who grew up on a cattle ranch in Snowflake, whose great-great-grandfather, William Jordan Flake, was sent to Arizona by Brigham Young himself to colonize the area, and for whom, along with the Mormon leader Erasmus Snow, the town is named.
It's the story of the struggle of the Mormons to establish themselves in the West, and in the process to settle large portions of many of our Western states - a heroic struggle, in every sense of the word, and it deserves a central place in the teaching of American history.
Perhaps, once the next round of elections is decided, Mr. Flake will consider writing that book.
• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of "Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement" (Wiley).
• • •
CONSCIENCE OF A CONSERVATIVE: A REJECTION OF DESTRUCTIVE POLITICS AND A RETURN TO PRINCIPLE
By Jeff Flake
Random House, $27, 140 pages