by Ross Benes, author of Rural Rebellion: How Nebraska Became a Republican Stronghold
Through op-eds, comments to the press, and voting to let former President Trump’s impeachment trial proceed, Ben Sasse has tried to distance himself from some aspects of the modern Republican Party. But in other ways, Sasse is quite emblematic of the GOP.
Sasse deserves credit for not being conspiratorial. He was one of the first Republicans in Congress to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory and congratulate the president-elect. He’s called out members of his own party, like Missouri’s Josh Hawley and Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, by name for outlandish things they’ve said. He’s made news numerous times for negative-sounding statements he’s made about Trump. This is to say that Sasse is trying to position himself as a leader of the post-Trump Republican Party.
But don’t let Sasse’s chastising of other Republicans fool you about his voting record. In the last Congressional session, Sasse voted in line with his party 95 percent of the time, per Voteview. Sasse voted in line with Trump about 85 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight, slightly more often than Florida’s Rick Scott did.
Sometimes Sasse supported Trump’s position because Trump was providing something that Republicans in Congress wanted. But that wasn’t always the case.
For example, when Trump issued an emergency declaration over this proposed border wall, Sasse criticized the measure as an instance of the executive branch overstepping its bounds. “Over the past decades, the legislative branch has given away too much power and the executive branch has taken too much power,” Sasse said. When the measure was put to a vote, a dozen Republicans voted against Trump’s position. Sasse was not one of them.
Despite his talk, Sasse fell in line with Trump when he had to actually vote on the matter, which is what Sasse usually does. After this vote, Reason magazine stated that Sasse is “fond of talking about the importance of Congress as a check on runaway executive power but who declined Thursday to play his part in stopping exactly such a power grab.” This statement could be repurposed whenever Sasse’s votes don’t align with his strong talk, which happens quite often.
In trying to appease Nebraska Republican primary voters while branding himself as principled conservative ready for a grandeur stage, Sasse has struck an awkward balance. His tone and statements are unlike the salient Trump-driven wing of the GOP, but his voting record is all the same.
Ross Benes is the award-winning author of three books. He has written for Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Lincoln Journal Star, Nation, Omaha World-Herald, Rolling Stone, Wall Street Journal, and more. A native of Brainard, Nebraska, he now cheers on the Huskers from New York.