The Conference Call
On Oct. 15, the Washington Examiner obtained and reported on an audio clip of Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse speaking to constituents in a conference call. In the nine minute clip, a woman confronts Sasse on his past criticisms of President Trump.
“I think – like a lot of Nebraskans – I’m trying to understand your relationship with the president,” the woman said. “Why do you have to criticize him so much?”
Sasse, one of the few Republican senators who has been openly at odds with the president at times, said that “policy agreements and policy disagreements” and “long-term political implications” should be distinguished.
He emphasized that he has worked with, and prayed for, the president through his administration. Sasse said that Trump has now shifted to “traditionally Republican positions that he used to reject.”
Sasse praised the president’s judicial nominations and other stances that they both share. But he said that Trump’s values are “deficient, not just for a Republican but for an American.”
He condemned Trump for “the way he treats women… He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists.”
On policy, Sasse said he criticizes the president for excessive spending and his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. In regards to foreign relations, he said that the president “kisses dictators’ butts” and “regularly sells out our allies.”
On “long-term political implications,” he said he questions whether Trump is “ultimately driving the country further to the left,” which he said is why he supported the other candidates in the 2016 Republican primary.
In addition, Sasse said that young voters and women may be “repulsed by the obsessive nature of our politics” and turn to the Democratic party permanently.
He admitted that many Nebraska voters are “Trumpier” than he is, but also that he’s heard that many Nebraskans have a mixed view of the president.
Sasse added that Trump is likely to lose to former Vice President Joe Biden and that the Republican party as a whole will be hurt for the future.
Trump takes to Twitter
President Trump, who Sasse condemned for “rage tweeting,” took to Twitter to respond to the senator from Nebraska, calling him “Little Ben Sasse.” Trump suggested that Sasse’s career trajectory would follow former senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who both chose not to seek re-election in 2018.
Sen. Sasse’s communication director, James Wegmann, issued a statement via Twitter, saying “Ben is focused on defending the Republican Senate majority, and he’s not going to waste a single minute on tweets.”
Fellow Nebraska Republicans Rep. Don Bacon and Rep. Adrian Smith gave statements giving their support to the president without explicitly condemning Sasse. Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said that his recent criticisms “will not erase the years Sasse was complicit in the horrendous behavior and actions of Trump.”
The implications for the election
Sasse is up for re-election this year, but isn’t likely to lose in a solid red state like Nebraska. However, Nebraska’s second district, which Trump won in 2016, is likely to give its electoral vote to Joe Biden. Democrat Kara Eastman also has a chance to defeat incumbent Republican Don Bacon to represent the district in Congress.
Another Republican Senator, John Cornyn of Texas, was openly critical of the president last week. Cornyn described his relationship with the president as “maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse.”
According to the latest polls by Gallup, President Trump has a 43% approval rating, which is low but consistent with most of his presidency. There is speculation that Republicans like Sen. Sasse are trying to distance themselves from the president because they anticipate the voters to reject him in November.
Independents (35%) and Democrats (4%) have largely disapproved of Trump. But the president has a 94% approval rating among registered Republicans, which complicates things for members of the president’s party.
Although Nebraska and Texas have historically been red states, the Democratic candidate has the potential to win electoral votes from both states this year. Although Biden is only likely to get one electoral vote from Nebraska, it would indicate a nationwide swing to the Democratic party.
Biden winning Texas, which has become one of the nation’s closest races, and its 38 electoral votes would be a disaster for the Republican party. It would send a message that although Trump has a loyal base, the population as a whole has rejected his brand of politics.
Ben Sasse’s comments may cause a problem for many of his voters, and they aren’t likely to win over many Democratic voters. But it may clue us into how Republicans like Sasse see the post-Trump years playing out for the GOP.