U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, isn’t hesitant to talk about how he has not been favored by the Republican hierarchy in Washington.
He was an outsider when elected and makes no bones about it.
But he is equally clear that he cannot support another thorn in the side of the GOP power structure, an outsider who is creating tidal waves in the party.
“Please understand: I’m not an establishment Republican, and I will never support Hillary Clinton. I’m a movement conservative who was elected over the objections of the GOP establishment. My current answer for who I would support in a hypothetical matchup between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is: Neither of them. I sincerely hope we select one of the other GOP candidates, but if Donald Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, conservatives will need to find a third option,” he said in a new Open Letter to Trump Supporters.
The statement follows on the heels of an endorsement by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., of Trump, and illustrates the striking divide that the GOP is facing in its primary for president this year.
Sasse posted his opposition just as the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses were looming, and KETV in Nebraska noted his inability to support Trump, a New York billionaire who is leading across most of the GOP primary polls.
Sasse said, “The Trump coalition is broad and complicated, but I believe many Trump fans are well-meaning. I have spoken at length with many of you, both inside and outside Nebraska. You are rightly worried about our national direction. You ache about a crony-capitalist leadership class that is not urgent about tackling our crises. You are right to be angry.”
He cited Trump’s “relentless focus” on dividing Americans, and “on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation. Much like President Obama, he displays essentially no understanding of the fact that, in the American system, we have a constitutional system of checks and balances, with three separate but co-equal branches of government. And the task of public officials is to be public ‘servants.’ The law is king, and the people are boss. But have you noticed how Mr. Trump uses the word ‘reign’ – like he thinks he’s running for king? It’s creepy, actually. Nebraskans are not looking for a king. We yearn instead for the recovery of a constitutional republic.”
He explained his perspective, pointing out that he’s not a career politician, a lawyer or part of the establishment.
“In my very first speech to the Senate, I told my colleagues that ‘The people despise us all.’ This institution needs to get to work, not on the lobbyists’ priorities, but on the people’s.”
He described America simply as “the most exceptional nation in the history of the world because our Constitution is the best political document that’s ever been written. It said something different than almost any other government had said before: Most governments before said that might makes right, that government decides what our rights are and that the people are just dependent subjects. Our Founders said that God gives us rights by nature, and that government is not the author or source of our rights. Government is just our shared project to secure those rights.”
So he cited the questions that are raised by a number of statements from Trump, including, “When the students poured into Tienanmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. They were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak…,’ ‘Putin, who has killed journalists and is pillaging Ukraine, is a great leader,’ ‘The editor of National Review ‘should not be allowed on TV and the FCC should fine him,” and on the Internet: ‘I would certainly be open to closing areas.'”
That means if Trump is the GOP nominee, “my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate – a conservative option, a constitutionalist.”
“I suspect I am far from alone. After listening to Nebraskans in recent weeks, and talking to a great many people who take oaths seriously, I think many are in the same place. I believe a sizable share of Christians – who regard threats against religious liberty as arguably the greatest crisis of our time – are unwilling to support any candidate who does not make a full-throated defense of the First Amendment a first commitment of their candidacy,” Sasse wrote.
Columnists also were divided.
Conservative icon Pat Buchanan wrote in a commentary on WND that whatever else develops, “a new Republican Party is taking shape.”
“[Trump’s] probable nomination, and a chance for the GOP to take it all in the fall, is causing some conservatives and Republicans to threaten to bolt, go third party, stay home, or even vote for Clinton. They would prefer to lose to Clinton than win with Trump,” he wrote.
“We hear wails that the nomination of Trump would mean the end of the conservative movement. But how so? If Trump won and conducted a conservative government, it would validate the movement. If Trump won and turned left, it would inspire an insurgency like Ronald Reagan’s in 1976, when the Ford-Rockefeller-Kissinger administration moved too far toward detente. If Trump ran and lost, the conservative movement would have President Clinton to unite and rally the troops against.”
He continued, “Whatever happens at Cleveland [location of the GOP convention], the returns from the primaries look like the passing of the old order, the death rattle of an establishment fighting for its life, and being laughed at and mocked as it goes down.”
Commentator Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, however, said the GOP may end up putting forward a candidate who is “a glib egomaniac with a checkered record in business and no track record at all in government – Donald Trump. ”
“If so, the downward trajectory of America over the past seven years may well continue on into the future, to the point of no return.”
He continued, “On the campaign trail, Donald Trump’s theatrical talents, including his bluster and bombast, may be enough to conceal his shallow understanding of very deep problems. But that will not cut it in the White House, where you cannot clown or con your way out of problems, and where the stakes are matters of life and death.”
The tea-party icon said, “We are in a movement that must not fade away. The bosses are you. The people in Washington are public servants and they serve you.”
It was viewed as a blow to the candidacies of two other senators, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who once worked on Congress’ “Gang of Eight” immigration plan.
Sessions said that would never become reality under Trump.
“There is an opportunity this year, Tuesday, and we have the opportunity, we have an opportunity Tuesday. It may be the last opportunity we have for the people’s voice to be heard. You have asked for 30 years, and politicians have promised for 30 years to fix illegal immigration,” Sessions said.
“The American people have known for years these trade agreements have not been working for them,” Sessions stumped. “We now have and will soon have a vote on the Transpacific Partnership TPP), Obamatrade, and it will damage America. It will create a commission that undermines our sovereignty, and it should not pass. Donald Trump when he gets elected president will see it does not pass.”
Trump already had the endorsements of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, as well as Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Rep. Chris Collins R-N.Y.
Breitbart.com noted, “But all those endorsements pale in comparison to Sessions’ backing of Trump, as the Alabamian senator is universally respected – and feared – inside the beltway in Washington. Sessions is known for his tough views on immigration and trade and has repeatedly aimed to push the Republican Party in a more populist, nationalist direction. Sessions has helped frame the movement’s views on both issues – and more, like courts and judicial nominations, law and order and police matters, and on budgetary issues and the fiscal well-being of America – while maintaining a formidable political and policy operation that his allies view as invaluable and his enemies dread.”
Ira Stoll at the New York Sun said he wasn’t losing any sleep either way.
He cited a recent comparison by Harvard professor and Washington Post columnist Danielle Allen between the rise of Trump and the rise of Adolf Hitler.
“She is hardly the only one drawing that analogy. I did so myself back in September of 2015. Certainly, the last thing one wants to do is repeat the error of those who ignored or minimized the threat of Hitler until it was too late,” Stoll wrote.
“I’m not telling anyone not to panic. But myself, I am just taking a deep breath or two and relaxing. I will probably get called a Trump enabler, or worse, for saying so. Alas, telling people to calm down doesn’t generate the clicks or television ratings that the Trump panic does. But here – to help you sleep better, if nothing else – is a case that the alarm over Trump is probably overstated.”
He notes the “Hitler hype” largely is unwarranted. And by the way, Trump hasn’t won yet.
He pointed out Bill Clinton campaigned on middle-class tax cuts and jacked up taxes, and George W. Bush campaigned on humility in foreign policy and provided the Iraq war.
“Barack Obama campaigned against the individual mandate of Hillary Clinton’s health insurance plan, but Obamacare wound up including precisely such a mandate,” he said. “I don’t expect to be voting for Mr. Trump. But I am not losing sleep over him, either.”
Sasse doubled down on his comments Tuesday during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” declaring he and many others on the GOP side would be “out” of the party immediately if Trump becomes the nominee.
“Given who this guy is now, I can’t see how we think that,” Sasse said when asked if he could vote for Trump. “I don’t think this guy has any more core principles than a Kardashian marriage.
“I hope it happens that over the next 30 or 60 days that the Republican Party again becomes the party of Abraham Lincoln, limited government, and great human potential. I want to celebrate what’s good about America in the Republican Party,” Sasse said. “But if the Republican Party becomes the party of David Duke and Donald Trump, I’m out, and I think lots and lots and lots of people are out. So ultimately, there will be more choices than these two if Trump is the nominee.”