U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has been under fire from Trump supporters when he was one of a handful of Senate Republicans who did not vote in favor of U.S. Senator Rand Paul’s resolution calling the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump unconstitutional.
Sasse has been unwilling to rule out voting to convict the former president, who the U.S. House of Representatives impeached after the riot and breach of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 that ended with five people dead and delayed the certification of the Electoral College vote.
He has also been critical of the president’s actions since Election Day.
I’m on the record opposing the impeachment. I also believe an impeachment trial of someone who is now a private citizen is constitutionally questionable if not unconstitutional. It’s undoubtedly unprecedented and, I’m sure, will be debated for years regardless of the outcome.
So Sasse and I may disagree on that. He may very well vote against conviction. Sasse hasn’t said he would vote to convict. He just hasn’t ruled it out.
I don’t fault Sasse for not voting for the resolution. I think it is entirely appropriate for a Senator not to telegraph how they will vote before the impeachment trial begins. While this is not a criminal or civil trial, the Senate does act as the jury. Jurors are not supposed to consider a verdict until the trial ends, and the defense rests. It is appropriate for a Senator to wait as well.
Paul’s resolution was not going to stop the trial, and its unconstitutionality is debatable. It would be better for Senators to make that case when they deliberate as a body after the trial before they vote.
Also, I think President Trump’s responsibility for what happened on January 6 is debatable. I don’t think he’s criminally liable for inciting a riot based on the timeline of when the riot started. I also don’t believe he meant to fight Congress physically. This is language he has used in the past. That said, his actions leading up to January 6 provided the opportunity for this to happen. His response during the riot and afterward I also found wanting. Worthy of impeachment? If he had more than two weeks to go in his term, perhaps I would have thought differently.
I say all of this as the context for Sasse’s message to the Nebraska GOP State Central Committee that is considering censuring him. His response is one that I think Republicans, especially those who are angry about the presidential election results, need to hear.
“I listen to Nebraskans every day, and very few of them are as angry about life as some of the people on this committee, not all of you, but a lot. Political addicts don’t represent most Nebraska conservatives,” he said.
Sasse reflected on his 2014 campaign.
“We promised to speak out when our leaders, not just Democrats, but any leader in either party crossed the line. We pledged to put the constitution ahead of party politics. You gave me standing ovations,” he said. “My election night speech, the first time I ever ran for or got elected anything, was a simple promise that I would always vote my conscience, even if it might be against the partisan stream. You cheered,
“But many of the same party officials who applauded in 14, cussed me out and 16 when I refused to vote for candidate Trump, and, again, when I declined to serve on his reelection committee in 19. And, again, when I didn’t vote for him in 20. Now many of you are hacked off that I condemned his lies that led to a riot,” Sasse continued.
“Let’s be clear, the anger in the state party has never been about me violating principle or abandoning conservative policy. I’m one of the most conservative voters in the Senate. The anger has always been simply about me not bending the knee to one guy. But my disagreements with President Trump have never been personal. They’ve always been about genuine affection for the constitutional order. Something every American regardless of party should share,” he said.
“What Americans saw three weeks ago was ugly, shameful mob violence to disrupt a constitutionally mandated meeting of the Congress to affirm that peaceful transfer of power. It happened because the president lied to you. He lied about the election results for 60 days, despite losing 60 straight court challenges, many of them handed down by wonderful Trump-appointed judges. He lied by saying that the vice president could just violate his constitutional oath and declare a new winner. That wasn’t true. He then riled a mob that attacked the Capitol, many chanting ‘hang Pence.’ If that President were a Democrat, we both know how you’d respond. But because he had Republican behind his name, you’re defending him,” Sasse argued.
“Something has definitely changed over the last four years. But it’s not me. Personality cults aren’t conservative. Conspiracy theories aren’t conservative. Lying that an election has been stolen; it’s not conservative. Acting like politics is a religion. It isn’t conservative. I still believe every word from the campaign trail. What makes America great isn’t power politics. It’s what happens in the communities where you and I are raising our kids. Happily, most Nebraskans still believe that too,” he said.
Sasse was able to back this up with numbers. He outperformed Trump in Nebraska by almost 27,000 votes. Sasse won Douglas County, where Omaha is located, by over 20 points, and Lancaster County, where Lincoln is located, by 23 points. Trump lost Douglas County by over 11 points and Lancaster by almost eight points.
Who better reflects the electorate? Not Trump.
Republicans need to unify over principles, not divide over a personality. The current trajectory that I saw back in 2016 is why I left the Republican Party (though I still happily vote for Republican candidates I can support). I acknowledge not being in party leadership or an elected office made that easier. I’m, however, not alone.
If the Republican Party is going to succeed, it needs to offer a vision that can unite voters. Questioning someone’s conservative credentials or pushing people out of the party because they disagree with Trump’s behavior or because they don’t believe a presidential election was stolen will only lead to permanent minority status. (Or push out those who don’t think U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., should be forced from leadership due to her impeachment vote or oppose U.S. Rep. Melody Taylor Greene, R-Ga., because she is a conspiracy theorist.)
If the Republican Party focuses once again on principles and not personalities, I’ll happily return. In the meantime, the party needs guys like Sasse to get there.