Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has said that politics is about more than “the weird worship of one dude” in response to a reprimand from the state Republican Party for his vote to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment trial.
On Saturday, the central committee of Nebraska’s Republican Party said that Sasse had been “rebuked” over his impeachment trial vote. It stopped short of formally censuring him, reported the Omaha World Herald.
In a statement to CNN following the rebuke, Sasse retorted that that “Most Nebraskans don’t think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude.”
The Nebraska GOP’s vote had been delayed by bad weather and came several weeks after Trump’s acquittal in his second impeachment trial.
In a statement reported by the Herald, the central committee expressed its “deep disappointment and sadness with respect to the service of Senator Ben Sasse and calls for an immediate readjustment whereby he represents the people of Nebraska to Washington and not Washington to the people of Nebraska.”
Sasse is the latest Republican to face a backlash from their state party following their vote to convict Trump in the impeachment trial.
In the wake of the Capitol riots, the myth of the reasonable Republican is on life support.
After suburban voters abandoned the Trump-led GOP in November and the QAnon wing of the party continued to grab power, the supposedly moderate wing of the Republican party has decided the best way to keep the caucus together and try and win moving forward is to elevate the institutional personalities that lend their agenda credibility.
These establishment Republicans are promoting some current lawmakers willing to buck former President Donald Trump in a bid to regain their credibility in the country’s political center. These GOP lawmakers are painted as reasonable, moderate types – despite the fact that their extreme policy positions embody the far right tilt of the GOP in general.
“I think the brave Republicans like Liz Cheney, like Ben Sasse, like Adam Kinzinger – who are standing up to the bullies – are the future of our party,” former GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock told CNN on February 5.
Conservative personalities, sensing the opportunity to continue the brand of center-right heroism that made the Lincoln Project and other so-called “Never Trump” Republicans rich, are pushing the myth that there’s a fundamental split in the GOP between the party’s establishment and conspiracist firebrands like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
“Make no mistake: They are outnumbered,” wrote Commentary’s Noah Rothman. “But these politicians act as though they, not their opponents, control the commanding heights. That is both intimidating and inspiring.”
Beltway media is buying it
Their performative courage has won three GOP lawmakers the right to the reins of the party, at least as far as establishment media is concerned. Cheney “became the conscience of Republicans” declared CNN’s Chris Cillizza on January 12; Kinzinger is “now leading Republican resistance to the Trump faction,” said The Independent on February 6; and Sasse has “acted like an adult,” according to the Omaha World Telegraph.
“Progressives need to celebrate these conservatives as heroes,” gushed the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson.
“I never thought I’d have to share a foxhole with some of the nation’s most doctrinaire conservatives,” he added.
But Robinson shouldn’t share anything with them other than his disdain.
All three of the presumed reasonable trio have acted in office to push Trump’s agenda and the far right politics their party has been cultivating for years. Cheney, Kinzinger, Sasse, Trump, and Greene are part of the same far right movement. The only difference is one of phrasing. They all represent the same ideological project and have the same cruel viewpoint that prioritizes brutalizing people at home and around the world.
Anger from the Donald Trump-supporting right against Cheney – after her vote to impeach the former president for his incitement of the riots – culminated in an attempt to remove her from the caucus’ House leadership on February 3. The congresswoman’s defeat of that effort has led to relief from some quarters of the political mainstream that lauded the “inspired” fight from the congresswoman.
Yet just a day later, faced with the opportunity to hold Greene accountable for the freshman’s past statements against democracy and her Democratic colleagues, Cheney declined, voting to keep Greene in place in the House.
Cheney, who was friendly with the birther movement during Obama’s presidency, has been reliably right-wing in the House, voting with Trump about 93% of the time. In fact, the one point at which she has had any substantive difference of policy is on the question of whether or not to impeach Trump a second time for his role in inciting the Capitol riot, a vote that likely owed far, far more to her reverence for the authority of the chamber than to her actual disapproval of Trump’s actions.
As The Nation’s John Nichols put it, she’s “a hate-amplifying liar whose only sin in the eyes of her colleagues is that she got one thing wrong.”
Kinzinger, a Tea Party darling, has made himself one of the faces of “reclaiming” the party from Q and Trump, leading the charge to push back on the former president’s attempts to undo the results of the 2016 election and the takeover of the party by elements like Greene.
While Kinzinger is attempting, and may well succeed at, a rebranding of his image, he’s still a creature of the party’s second furthest right-wing movement of just the last decade – and he’s been a stalwart of that extremist ideology. After entering Congress in 2013, he largely toed the party line on opposing civil rights and taking a pro-war, pro-rich stance on issue after issue. A late-in-the-game Damascus moment came over the summer and increased in volume after the Capitol riots, but the congressman nonetheless voted with Trump about 90% of the time for the former president’s term. This is a difference in rhetoric, not in policy.
Sasse has been praised recently for his vote to convict Trump in the former president’s second impeachment and for his lambasting of the Nebraska Republican Party after it moved to censure him. But while Sasse is delivering conveniently timed “tough talk” and voting to hold Trump accountable for his actions, this new found courage has only appeared weeks into Biden’s term. It echoes his criticism of Trump in 2020. Sasse made a name for himself early on in the former president’s term for being willing to challenge the president on his tone and rhetoric, but cut the critiques down in later 2019 once he was faced by a primary challenger.
Once he obtained Trump’s backing and won the Republican nomination though, he rediscovered his deep, moral issues with the former president and launched back into the attacks. NBC’s Medhi Hasan put it succinctly on February 8-“the senator has more in common with Marjorie Taylor Greene than he might admit. They both hitched their wagon to Trump because they knew that is the way Republicans win.”
Another reset that isn’t really a “reset”
The Republican Party is undergoing a similar sort of reset as it did shortly after being walloped in the 2008 general election.
The GOP in 2009 responded to their defeat by taking a public stance that their number one priority was making Barack Obama a one term president. A radical position of “obstruction at all costs” won them the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014, but with that came the rise of a new far right movement that looked to Sarah Palin for inspiration.
In both 2009 and 2020, the electorate rejected the Republican agenda. It was a narrower result in 2020, but even with slim majorities in the House and Senate, the Democrats are once again in full control of the two elected branches of the federal government.
Fast forward 12 years and the proverbial chickens have come home to roost. The Tea Party movement mutated into Trumpism, which in turn begat the zombified QAnon-Trumpist movement that is ascendant in the party base today.
The situation presents a conundrum for the Republican Party’s more serious members. While they’re not devoted to the same level of culture war memery as the rising party is, they knowingly share the same policy priorities, surface level grievance culture aside. But they’re holding onto what could be a rapidly fraying coalition in the face of challenges like a political brand that’s become too toxic for corporations to donate to and the possibility, however slim, that Trump could actually launch his “Patriot Party.”
Conservatives may want to pretend that the current GOP is somehow today different ideologically than in the past, but the rot is just out in the open now. Putting forward a few party members as steady hands in a time of crisis will have the same result it did after 2008 – a brief respite from the increasing insanity that drives the Republican project before lurching even further to the right. Let’s skip the kayfabe this time.
Eoin Higgins is a journalist in New England. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, The Intercept, Vice News, and many other outlets. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.