October 11, 2016

AW, SHUCKS:

IF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY CAN BE SAVED FROM ITS TRUMPOCALYPSE, THIS SENATOR COULD BE THE KEY : Long before his colleagues saw the light, Ben Sasse repudiated Trump and demanded a new kind of politics. But is the GOP ready for his reformation? (TIM MURPHY SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2016, Mother Jones)


One evening in early May, Sen. Ben Sasse sat at his home on the banks of the Platte River just outside Fremont, Nebraska, and began writing a message "to majority America." Donald Trump had just become the de facto Republican presidential nominee. As Sasse explained in a Facebook post that would soon go viral, two things had happened that day that he couldn't shake. His phone had been flooded with voicemails from party leaders asking the first-term Republican to get on board with the GOP's candidate. And he had gone shopping at Walmart.

Sasse had been critical of Trump throughout the primaries--mocking his insecurity about the size of his hands, crashing a private meeting between Glenn Beck and Fox News' Sean Hannity to assail the latter's Trump coverage as "bull," and even traveling to Iowa to warn voters that Trump talked like a man who was running to be king. Trump, for his part, retorted that the 44-year-old Sasse looked like a "gym rat." But as Sasse navigated the aisles of Walmart, his shopping trip became a rolling public forum. Shopper after shopper approached him, he wrote, with the same refrain. They were fed up with both parties; they were sick of Trump as well as Hillary Clinton; and mostly, they were tired of Washington punting on its responsibilities.

And so Sasse, putting off his kids' bedtime bath to keep writing, proposed an alternative. What if there were someone else--a candidate running on a minimalist platform that promised to focus on three or four things, like entitlement reform and fighting terrorism: "I think there is room--an appetite--for such a candidate."

To the chagrin of the party's Never Trump rump, Sasse made clear that he himself would not be that candidate. Nevertheless, as his colleagues one by one climbed aboard the Trump train, Sasse steadfastly withheld his support from the GOP nominee. On Saturday, after a tape of Trump boasting of sexual assault was leaked to the Washington Post, Sasse became one of the first Republican senators to call on the GOP nominee to leave the presidential race. Dozens of Republicans, tired of defending their erratic figurehead's bigotry and reality TV antics, rescinded their endorsements of Trump. But what set Sasse apart from his peers is that he had never wavered in his opposition, even as pressure mounted to fall in line. Most of the few Republican lawmakers who have renounced their candidate are retiring or fighting to hold on to blue-leaning seats--that is, they had nothing to lose or potentially something to gain. Sasse isn't up for reelection for four years, and his state is as reliably crimson as his ubiquitous Cornhuskers polo shirt.

A Trump loss would bring a moment of reckoning for Republicans, one that could put Sasse in a position of unusual influence for a first-term senator--poised, perhaps, to refocus the identity of the GOP in the way that Paul Ryan and Newt Gingrich did before him. As a longtime scholar of the Protestant Reformation and a self-described "crisis turnaround guy," he has spent his life studying what happens when major organizations become unmoored from their mission. The Republican Party may be his biggest project yet.

Posted by at October 11, 2016 7:13 PM

  

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