Is Ben Sasse a Profile in Courage?
The Nebraska Senator is no Trump acolyte, but he waits for political opportunity to speak his mind
Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) wrote a lengthy Facebook post in which he urged his Republican colleagues to refrain from objecting during the Electoral College certification process. While Sasse did not call out anyone by name, he probably felt compelled to write the post after Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) announced his intention to voice his objection on January 6th. Since Hawley’s statement, eleven additional Senate Republicans revealed their intentions to object to the certification.
In the Facebook post, Sasse clarified to his supporters why politicians continue to allege voter fraud. “Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage,” Sasse explains. Objecting politicians are risking confidence in the American democratic process in exchange for the support of Trump’s crowds
Sasse spells out the political opportunism even further. “When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single Congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent — not one. Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will ‘look’ to President Trump’s most ardent supporters.”
Is Sasse a profile in courage? Sasse embodies the predicament many Republicans face: he opposes many aspects of Trump’s leadership, but he also needs Trump’s supporters in his own state for re-election.
The former university professor was elected to the Senate in 2014. He could hardly be described as a Trump supporter; he announced that he wrote in Mike Pence’s name on his 2016 ballot.
Electoral politics, however, may have prevented Sasse from being vocal against Trump throughout the Trump presidency. Sasse was up for re-election in 2020. Like many incumbents, he faced a primary challenge. The challenger, Matt Innis, made the senator’s disapproval of Trump a central component of his campaign. The result? Sasse voted to acquit in Trump’s impeachment trial, arguing that the voters would have their final say on the president’s conduct in the November election. Like the colleagues he now criticizes, Sasse is an ambitious politician who believes he can appease Trump’s voting base while avoiding long-term damage.
Sasse’s silence paid in dividends. He secured Trump’s endorsement via tweet, and he defeated his primary challenger in May.
After the Republican primary, Sasse became more vocal in his disapproval. “The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor,” Sasse listed in rapid fire to his constituents in a telephone townhall after the primary. “The ways I criticize President Obama for that kind of spending; I’ve criticized President Trump for as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists.”
Sasse safely won his re-election bid in reliably red Nebraska in 2020 by a larger margin than Trump won the state, and then Sasse felt safe to speak out against the defeated president’s coup attempts.
Sasse may indeed disapprove of the president’s conduct, but he waits for politically opportune moments to voice his opinion.