Republican Sen. Ben Sasse hopped aboard the #NeverTrump train early, and even as his party appears to be warming to a Donald Trump nomination, Sasse is refusing to budge.
That makes him the most prominent and vocal Republican opponent of Trump, but only hyperactive followers of politics know much about this youthful, well-educated and deeply conservative Nebraskan senator. You probably should know more, though, because he will likely get increasing attention – especially if Trump loses.
First, some biographical and political details:
- He grew up in Fremont, a small city in Nebraska.
- He graduated high school at the top of his class and earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvard University. He went on to earn multiple master’s degrees and a doctorate from Yale University’s department of history, writing his dissertation on Ronald Reagan.
- He held multiple federal government posts and a job at the Boston Consulting Group before becoming president of Midland University in Nebraska at the age of 37.
- He ran for U.S. Senate in 2014 as a political newcomer and won the general election easily.
- At 44, he is one of the youngest U.S. senators currently in office
- He is really, really religious. He homeschools his children, bringing them with him to D.C. in shifts while the others stay in Nebraska to learn with their mother.
- Homeschooling alone doesn’t certify someone as ultra-religious, though people who choose to do so are often very religious. But Sasse believes that religious liberty is “co-equal to our right to life” and that “government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances.” That’s an idea with major repercussions for women’s health care, LGBT rights, access to abortion, etc. He also commonly quotes scripture at events and uses words like “idolatrous” in his speeches.
- He believes in the strictest of limits to the federal government and considers himself a constitutional originalist, which has led him to vote “no” on bills frequently. For instance, he was the only senator to vote against a bill aimed at addressing the serious problem of opiod abuse because he felt the issue should be left entirely to individual states.
He really stepped into the #NeverTrump ring with a lengthy Facebook “manifesto” – as some oddly called it – in February, but actually his feud with Trump started a bit earlier.
In late January Sasse told Fox News that Trump would violate the constitution and that his past liberal stances would essentially ensure a third Obama term.
Trump, of course, quickly fired back on Twitter.
And Sasse quickly responded, even getting in a dig about Trump’s reportedly under-sized hands, which irritates him to no end.
Sasse followed this up with a lengthy Facebook post in February that some suggested was laying the groundwork for his own third-party bid. But Sasse himself has said he won’t run, and in fact it would be essentially impossible at this point, not to mention career suicide.
In the post he argued that “neither political party works” and are “enough of a mess that I believe they will come apart.” He called for a “care-taker problem-solver” candidate who “hadn’t spent his/her life in politics either buying politicians or being bought” and “pledged to serve only one term.”
That term should be focused on a few issues, Sasse argued: “A national security strategy for the age of cyber and jihad,” “balance[ing] our budget,” “empowering states and local governments to improve K-12 education,” “retiring career politicians by ending all the incumbency protections” and “protect[ing] First Amendment values in the face of the safe-space movement.”
Is his opposition building a movement within the Republican Party to stop Trump? Not really, and it won’t.
Certainly there are plenty of old-guard Republicans – Mitt Romney and the entire Bush family, to name a few – who will never come around to Trump, but the current is moving against Sasse.
Even House Speaker Paul Ryan has not been as outspoken as Sasse and eventually announced his support for Trump through a column in his hometown newspaper.
Even Marco Rubio, who called Trump a con man and belittled his penis size in the desperation of his campaign’s final days, said recently that he’ll speak in favor of Trump at the GOP convention.
Even Lindsay Graham, who backed Ted Cruz over Trump after previously saying someone could shoot Cruz on the Senate floor and get acquitted of murder, is giving Trump counsel on foreign policy.
Even Sasse’s home-state party officials voted almost unanimously to essentially scold him and say they’ll support Trump.
Even Republican voters overwhelmingly want GOP leaders to back Trump. As reported by the New York Times in mid-May, 8 out of 10 Republican voters want Republican officials to support Trump even if they disagree with him, according to a survey, which also showed a surge of favorable sentiment toward Trump within the GOP.
In short, Sasse is fighting a losing and high-risk battle, but one that will certainly lead to significant attention for a politician who was previously unknown.
If Trump wins, then Sasse is isolated. Even if Trump loses it doesn’t automatically mean Sasse will have greater credibility. Plenty of people don’t actually want a Trump nomination or think he has a real chance, but they’re team players who fell in line. Sasse will wear the opposite label from now on.
But that’s probably exactly what he wants. As his Facebook post attests, he sees the future as one in which Americans expect increasing independence from tribal politics and party orthodoxy. It’s a future in which you don’t have to play ball to get ahead, as the candidacies of Ted Cruz and even Bernie Sanders attest. That’s not a bad position for Sasse to be in for 2020.