With Jeff Flake retired from the Senate and John McCain dying two years ago, the Republican Party's highly coveted position of "person who very occasionally says tepid things that could be construed as a critique of the president" has been left open for the taking, with Utah's Mitt Romney, Maine's Susan Collins, and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski all angling to be the GOP's tongue-clucker du jour. There is also, of course, first-term Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse.
Sasse swooped in to make his case with some extremely obvious points about President Trump while on a town hall call this week, and is now in prime position to be the Flake-iest new Flake in the increasingly MAGA-fied GOP caucus. In audio obtained by the Washington Examiner, Sasse is heard being pushed by a constituent to explain his ever-so-gently critical relationship with the president.
'Why do you have to criticize him so much?" the woman asks, prompting Sasse to launch into all the ways he and Trump actually do get along, and how proud he is to pray for the president's success. Then, however, he gets around to the other part, in which he says Trump's values are "deficient not just for a Republican, but for an American" and generally rattles off the things everyone knows but which have become anathema within the modern GOP:
The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor. The ways I criticize President Obama for that kind of spending; I've criticized President Trump for as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He's flirted with white supremacists.
Sasse also condemned "the way he kisses dictators' butts," naming China as a particular source of frustration, while pointing out that the president's unpopularity could end up giving the Democrats a majority in the Senate.
Of course, none of this should come as a shock to anyone who hasn't been in a coma for the past four-ish years. But somehow this is considered shocking and revelatory — and possibly even traitorous — within the GOP.
"I don't know how many more times we can shout this: Even though the Beltway is obsessing exclusively about the presidential race, control of the Senate is 10 times more important," a spokesperson for Sasse told CBS News after the constituent call became public. "The fragile Senate seats that will determine whether Democrats nuke the Senate are the races Ben cares about, the races he's working on, and the only races he's talking about."
Trump, for his part, had labeled Sasse a RINO — Republican In Name Only — after Sasse clinched the GOP nomination for Nebraska's 2020 Senate race.
And yet despite lambasting the president as a self-absorbed, dictator-loving, pandemic-surrendering grifter, Sasse votes on bills the president supports more than 86% of the time. As a senator on the cusp of six more years in office, you'd think he might want to use his vote to protect the American public from the moral-less demon he appears to believe is in office.