At the RedState Gathering in 2016, I got to listen to Ben Sasse in person for the first time, discussing conservatism and his thoughts on Washington, the state of the country, and politics in general. It was a great speech, and it reinvigorated some hope in me that conservatism is still a thing that can survive in the darkest of times.
Much of what he said at the Gathering and what makes Sasse so appealing to many conservatives is that he has been very consistent – before and since Trump, he has not ever compromised who he was as a conservative, has remained principled, and has voted conservative whether or not it was how people – those who want him to support the president 100 percent or those who want him to oppose the president 100 percent – wanted him to vote. He has donned neither the red MAGA cap nor the pompous dissension of Jeff Flake.
So, when it came down to the Senate’s vote on President Trump’s emergency declaration for the border wall, many were left scratching their heads as to why Sasse would vote for it.
My colleague, Bonchie, wrote about Sasse’s logic in his vote, in which Sasse pretty much says the Trump shouldn’t have the power to do what he’s doing, but he does and Congress should take that power away. However, because Congress gave that power to the president, he will vote for the president’s right to do it.
Many conservatives, myself included, were unhappy to see Sasse ultimately support the emergency declaration. It is precisely because the president shouldn’t have that power that Sasse, in my opinion, should have joined with other Republicans to oppose the declaration. Sasse is totally right, however, in stating that the NEA, which gives this power to the president, has to be revisited by Congress and immediately.
But while I am disappointed in the vote, I cannot join in with those who are wringing their hands over it and condemning Sasse as a traitor to the cause and no longer worth supporting. What Sasse did is very likely to advance the cause of conservatism, just not in the way they’d like.
You see, there is data that shows if Sasse picked up a pro-Trump opponent in Nebraska and Trump endorsed that candidate, he’s done. A primary challenge like that could spell the end of Sasse’s time in the Senate – something that people on both sides of him politically would celebrate.
If I had to guess, Sasse revealed with his vote that he is indeed running for re-election. It’s more than likely there was a deal struck: Sasse agrees to go along with the emergency declaration and the White House will stay out of his primary and even possibly endorse to ensure he’d hold on. Sasse is a politician, and his job is to get re-elected.
It’s not ideal, and it would be a compromise of who he is (the first such compromise from Sasse that I can recall), but it is a necessary one. Sasse has so far remained a consistent conservative voice, and to lose that voice over an emergency declaration that could be beaten by the courts would be a shame. So, I can’t be mad at Sasse for that. In fact, in an odd way, I’m thankful.
It’s not ideal, but it’s politics. It’s also true negotiation (give a little and take a little), which is something I’d frankly like to see more of in Washington. Ultimately, I don’t think any less of Sasse for it, and those on the right who are shouting at him for it should remind themselves that having Sasse in the Senate is preferable to having someone in total lock-step with the president… or a Democrat.