Arizona Senator Jeff Flake is not my ideal conservative. He has been a bit soft on border security, and too closely aligned with the moderate wing of the Senate GOP. That being said, he’s significantly more principled than the populist wing emerging in the party, and actually has shown the political courage to stand up for traditional conservatism.

It looks like Arizona voters won’t be rewarding Flake for that courage:

Bad news for Sen. Jeff Flake. A new poll puts his approval rating at 18 percent as the Republican senator gears up for a re-election next year.

Maybe just as concerning, if the election were held today, 47 percent of voters would vote for a Democrat compared to 31 percent who would cast their ballot for Flake.

This is an early poll taken in the midst of Flake expressing serious criticisms of a Trump administration that still maintains relative popularity with Republicans (and fierce opposition from just about everyone else). His numbers will rebound, but perhaps not enough to stave off a primary challenge.

Flake’s dilemma has me thinking — what could he have done better? Donald Trump did carry Arizona in both the primary and the general, but he failed to crack 50% in the GOP contest and also failed to crack 50% in the general. Arizona is “Trump-friendly” within the party but not exactly a bastion of support for the President.

Compare this to approval ratings of Senator Ben Sasse, a frequent Trump critic out of Nebraska (a state Trump carried with an actual majority both in the primary and general). There aren’t many recent numbers, but almost every poll out there has Sasse with a double-digit net positive.

Perhaps the issue for Flake is not his recent criticism of Trump, but rather the sense of desperation and profile-boosting that come with a surprise book launch and media appearance blitz. Flake was somewhat critical of Trump throughout the primary, but he wasn’t making the sustained case other “NeverTrumpers” made during the campaign.

I sense Flake’s issue is not his rebuttal of populism or even his criticism of Trump, but rather the lack of authenticity in how he’s making his case. Flake may survive the GOP primary, but to do so, he’ll need to convince voters he means what he’s selling.