As Charles Sykes points out, Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse is now fully a Trump bootlicker, and the last shred of human decency left in the Senate GOP has been set on fire, stomped on, pissed on, dug up, and its ashes shot into the sun.
After Trump proposed his ban on Muslim immigration in 2015, Sasse gave a speech on the Senate floor in which he denounced “demagoguing leaders" and "a megalomaniac strongman ... screaming about travel bans and deportation."
In interviews, he compared Trump to former KKK leader David Duke and described Trump’s rise as a personal breaking point. “This is the party of Abraham Lincoln,” he said. “This is not the party of David Duke, Donald Trump.”
Consistently, he cast the issue as one of fundamental constitutional principles rather than personality. Fundamentally, he said, “this party needs to return to its principles of believing in equality under the law and believing in the greatness of the potential of the American people.” As he said in February of 2016:
The problem is, at the end of the day, most people really want a choice that is about a constitutional recovery. They want to rebuild what's broken in America, not tear it down. And when you listen to Donald Trump, all you really hear is more Donald Trump, more tear it down, and a lot of praise of foreign dictators. I don't think the American people, and I don't think most Republicans really want a strongman.Even after Trump had secured the nomination, Sasse refused to fall in line. When asked if he would be attending the GOP convention, his office said that the senator would” instead take his kids to watch some dumpster fires across the state, all of which enjoy more popularity than the current front-runners.”
Sasse’s outspokenness continued through the first years of Trump’s presidency. A Politico profile in July 2018 noted that even as the ranks of never-Trumpers in the Republican Party “dwindles to a lonely few, the Nebraska senator has shown little interest in backing down.” Sasse seemed anxious to polish his conservative intellectual credentials by publishing a book just three weeks before the midterm election titled, “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal,” a decidedly non-Trumpian view of culture, politics and the future.
There was even speculation that Sasse might mount an independent challenge to Trump. In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” a year ago this month, he told host Jake Tapper that he thought about leaving the GOP “every morning” and said that he thought of himself as “an independent conservative who caucuses with the Republicans.”
When Trump lashed out at the Department of Justice in September of 2018 for indicting two Republican congressmen, Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California, Sasse delivered a stinging rebuke: “The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice — one for the majority party and one for the minority party,” Sasse said. “These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the president was when the investigations began.”
Sasse’s apparent independence continued into 2019. In February, declaring himself a “constitutional conservative,” he urged Trump not to declare a national emergency on the border, warning that it would set a dangerous precedent. “If we get used to presidents just declaring an emergency any time they can’t get what they want from Congress, it will be almost impossible to go back to a Constitutional system of checks and balances,” he said. “Over the past decades, the legislative branch has given away too much power and the executive branch has taken too much power.”
But the next month, he stunned observers when he voted to uphold Trump’s order even though 12 other GOP senators broke with Trump on the issue. It was a breathtaking reversal. In many ways, it was no different than the Faustian bargain made by so many of his colleagues and a reflection of the transformation of Republican politics.
Sasse would have been primaried out and destroyed like Justin Amash was and he knows it, but instead he toed the line and got his Trump tweet endorsement earlier this month. He figures he's got an easy path in 2020 to re-election, and he'll worry about the country in 2026. After all, Trump will be long gone by then, one way or another.