Ben Sasse pulls a Lindsey
He learned his lesson. You do NOT resist Dear Leader. And if you submit Trump will call you a very good boy:
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) voted to uphold President Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” to divert money from the military for a border wall that Congress refused to fund. Doing so ran counter to many of the principles he espoused not long ago as a self-identified “constitutional conservative,” specifically his outspoken calls for checking the power of the executive branch. Now, it’s paying political dividends.
Sasse refused to vote for Trump in the 2016 general election, comparing him to white supremacist David Duke and announcing that he’d write Mike Pence’s name in on his ballot. Now he says he’ll support the Republican ticket in 2020 and effusively praises the president’s judicial nominations. Last night at 9:23 p.m. Eastern, Trump returned the favor, tweeting that “Ben has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
“Ben Sasse has done a wonderful job representing the people of Nebraska,” the president wrote. “He is great with our Vets, the Military, and your very important Second Amendment. Strong on Crime and the Border…”
For Sasse, the past several months have represented something akin to surrender in the war for the soul of modern conservatism. More significant than his voting record is the evolution in Sasse’s tone about Trump and his increasingly long periods of silence. He’s gone to apparent pains not to be perceived as a Never Trumper or to become a face of the Republican resistance, mostly by flying below the radar and not speaking out against the president on Fox News. His once prolific personal Twitter account has been dark since May. He rarely engages with reporters seeking comment on the story of the day in the corridors of the Capitol.
During the first year of the Trump presidency, Sasse was often snarky about Trump’s apostasies. His office has released fewer such statements to the press over time, increasingly avoiding the president by name unless it’s a compliment. Last year, Sasse blasted Trump’s tariffs as “dumb.” Back home during the August recess, he was quoted by small-town papers speaking in a more cautious and measured way about the trade war. Sasse also didn’t speak out after Trump tried to bring the Taliban to Camp David on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, for example, nor as the president fired fellow hawk John Bolton.
Instead of critiquing Trump, Sasse has trained his ire on Nancy Pelosi. She’s become a regular object of derision in his news releases about issues like trade. When he voted against the budget deal in July that Trump negotiated with the House speaker, Sasse only singled out Pelosi for criticism. “Unless Republicans get serious, Speaker Pelosi is going to take us to the cleaners,” he said a release.
Backing up Trump on the emergency declaration was a turning point, possibly even the defining vote, of his political career. But it also made Sasse significantly more likely to win a second term by undercutting any primary challenge. Unlike his friends Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who retired in 2018 rather than risk primary defeats from pro-Trump challengers, Sasse seems likely to secure six more years in power. That would keep the 47-year-old in office beyond the Trump era, even if the president is reelected. Will the compromises have been worth it if he gets to chart the GOP’s post-Trump future in 2025?
Trump carried Nebraska in 2016 by 25 points, and the president is overwhelmingly popular among Republican primary voters. Limited public polling shows Sasse’s approval rating rising, driven by Republicans, over the past few quarters.
Pro-Trump activist Matt Innis, a former county-level GOP chairman, has been waging a primary challenge against Sasse that emphasizes his lack of fealty to the president. “You can’t find anything he’s really accomplished other than bashing the president,” Innis told the Omaha World-Herald. Last night, he told the paper that Trump’s tweet “doesn’t change anything.” Innis said he’ll emphasize other issues more going forward. But there’s no doubt the Trump endorsement takes the wind out of his sails.
Compare Sasse to Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, another Trump critic who chose not to capitulate. Last September, Sasse told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he thought about leaving the GOP to become an independent every morning when he woke up. During that interview, he praised Trump for nominating Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court but lamented the chaos in the White House. Then he scaled back national television interviews.
Amash called for Trump’s impeachment and quit the Republican Party on July Fourth after the president made clear he’d support a primary challenger. Now independent, Amash is mulling a bid for the presidency next year as the Libertarian Party’s nominee. “Sasse’s campaign team placed him in the endorsement protection program a couple years ago,” he tweeted last night.
The left has been even harsher. “Sasse finally gets his thirty pieces of silver,” tweeted Matthew Miller, an Obama Justice Department spokesman. “Sasse's political career has been a production of The Music Man directed by Roger Corman,” writes Esquire’s Charles Pierce.
All of this is a reminder of the extent to which Trump has remade the GOP. Focused on his own reelection, the president has his own incentives to smooth things over with past critics in the party to keep the GOP as unified as possible against the motivated and angry left. To ensure Trump gets as much of a coronation as possible, state-level Republican parties have been canceling primaries and caucuses around the country that were planned for next year. The ongoing revolt against Boris Johnson among members of his own Conservative party in the U.K. Parliament has felt surprising partly because of how relatively pliant Republicans have become in the U.S. Congress.
Sasse is a snake with pretentions of being above it all. This shows exactly how much he can be trusted to lead.
They're all cowards.