Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a leader of the #NeverTrump movement, posted a letter on Facebook outlining how he thinks the GOP got to where it is and the way forward. You should read it. Senator Sasse is a bright guy– he is well-educated and talented. He is an earnest and energetic man of deep conservative principle. He is also a partisan hack. This letter illustrates both sides of his coin rather clearly.
As many commentators have pointed out, including Leon Wolf at RedState, while Sasse may not be positioning himself as the third-party candidate he is calling for in his letter, there is no other obvious candidate– making it seem like he is talking about himself. Gary Johnson only revs the engine of the most committed (and delusional) libertarian. The National Review could only hold their nose and say “eh, if there is no alternative save Clinton/Trump, maybe…” This letter is a passive temperature check of the political water. Get an outpouring of support (vocally and financially) and you run. You run knowing you have no chance to win, but that you will raise your own political star and make yourself an agenda setter in whatever the rebuilt GOP looks like after the Bacchanalian orgy of Trumpism subsides. This support never comes and you simply back away. All you really wanted was an option that wasn’t terrible. You still get to play the principled conservative who didn’t follow Svengali down his twisted, evil path. Smart and slippery, Ben Sasse is a consummate politician.
This letter is more than a slick attempt at floating himself as a third-party candidate– it is full of the very myths and small-town America pandering that got the GOP into this situation in the first place.
Start with Sasse’s motif of the wisdom of small town folks juxtaposed with the corrupt stupidity of academics, Washington, and the political class. This “common man” myth couldn’t be more false. Small town America OVERWHELMINGLY voted for Donald Trump. Ted Cruz, the outsider of all outsiders, king of the evangelicals, and master of conservative ideological purity was not out-maneuvered and cut down by backroom deals in DC. He simply never gained traction on “Main Street.” Because small town America isn’t interested in conservative theory any more than it is liberal causes. They feel angry and let down. And while many of them might say that Democrats have at least been complicit, their real anger is (and should be) for the people they voted for over and over again. The Republican party.
I want to address each of his points in turn:
Washington isn’t fooling anyone — Neither political party works. They bicker like children about tiny things, and yet they can’t even identify the biggest issues we face. They’re like a couple arguing about what color to paint the living room, and meanwhile, their house is on fire. They resort to character attacks as step one because they think voters are too dumb for a real debate. They very often prioritize the agendas of lobbyists (for whom many of them will eventually work) over the urgent needs of Main Street America. I signed up for the Party of Abraham Lincoln — and I will work to reform and restore the GOP — but let’s tell the plain truth that right now both parties lack vision.
This is revisionist history. Say what you will about the consequences of Democratic policies, but the Democrats have proposed, voted on, and administered their agenda over the last 30 years. They propose solutions and compromise– when necessary or possible– in order to pass legislation. The GOP has not had something resembling an agenda in decades. The core issues that they promise their voters they will fight for never see any movement. The Democratic debates have been rife with policy discussion. The Republican debates, for the last two cycles, have been a circus. And Donald Trump is the most non-Washington candidate ever.
As a result, normal Americans don’t like either party. If you ask Americans if they identify as Democrat or Republican, almost half of the nation interrupts to say: “Neither.”
This has basically always been true. And Sasse knows this. Yet, most independents pretty reliably vote either Democrat or Republican. For example, I do not identify as a Democrat. Never have. Yet a look at my voting record would indicate that I only vote for them. Far from being moderates who swing, many independents are more rabid and extreme than the casual party member.
Young people despise the two parties even more than the general electorate. And why shouldn’t they? The main thing that unites most Democrats is being anti-Republican; the main thing that unites most Republicans is being anti-Democrat. No one knows what either party is for — but almost everyone knows neither party has any solutions for our problems. “Unproductive” doesn’t begin to summarize how messed up this is.
This is a gross simplification that is meant to gloss over the real issue. Democrats are united by social justice causes, basic economic philosophy, and a belief that life in the modern world requires an active and robust government. They have a coherent and positive action agenda. The Republican party post-George W. Bush lacks both. They are united in opposition to all things “liberal,” hate political correctness (which is often a veiled desire to be allowed to say and do racist, misogynist, and homophobic things), and the idea that the federal government should concentrate on national security and defense. They have no solutions to our problems because they don’t believe government can contribute to solving anything.
Reagan started saying this in the 60s and you are still saying it today. It is no truer now than it was then.
Our problems are huge right now, but one of the most obvious is that we’ve not passed along the meaning of America to the next generation. If we don’t get them to re-engage — thinking about how we defend a free society in the face of global jihadis, or how we balance our budgets after baby boomers have dishonestly over-promised for decades, or how we protect First Amendment values in the face of the safe-space movement – then all will indeed have been lost. One of the bright spots with the rising generation, though, is that they really would like to rethink the often knee-jerk partisanship of their parents and grandparents. We should encourage this rethinking.
Conservatives have been complaining about how the youth today do not understand the meaning of America for over thirty years. This is and has always been ahistorical crap. Young people are just as informed (or uninformed) as they ever were. And of course young people are re-examining the partisanship of their parents and grandparents, every generation does this. What Sasse is not mentioning here is that one party has been doing this while the other has ossified, continuing to repeat the same phrases and policies they have been trotting out since 1981.
These two national political parties are enough of a mess that I believe they will come apart. It might not happen fully in 2016 – and I’ll continue fighting to revive the GOP with ideas — but when people’s needs aren’t being met, they ultimately find other solutions.
This is not a two-party issue. It is an entirely conservative concern. The Democratic party platform, control of the executive office, and vote totals nationwide look rock solid. Your coalition is tearing apart at the seams. Please don’t fight to revive it. Fight to remake it as something that actively protects citizens and meets their needs.
In the history of polling, we’ve basically never had a candidate viewed negatively by half of the electorate. This year, we have two. In fact, we now have the two most unpopular candidates ever – Hillary by a little, and Trump by miles (including now 3 out of 4 women – who vote more and influence more votes than men). There are dumpster fires in my town more popular than these two “leaders.”
You are a historian. You know better than to make such contextless statements. These candidates are unique in a lot of ways. Hillary Clinton is a public figure who has been vilified by the loudest and most popular political media figures/entertainers for the last quarter century and is currently engaged in a second hotly contested primary run. She is also a woman. Her unpopularity goes way beyond her qualifications, experience, and personal characteristics. Trump has openly embraced bigotry and misogyny as campaign tactics, which worked fine in a primary system dominated by white men but is a hopeless disaster in a pluralistic democratic society full of women and minorities. These two candidates are not unpopular for the same reasons.
With Clinton and Trump, the fix is in. Heads, they win; tails, you lose. Why are we confined to these two terrible options? This is America. If both choices stink, we reject them and go bigger. That’s what we do.
You were not confined to these two choices. We were presented with many others and these are the two that the majority of Americans voting on both sides of the aisle chose. No fix was in. This is how democracy works.
Remember: our Founders didn’t want entrenched political parties. So why should we accept this terrible choice?
And then our founders went out and established political parties. Take it up with Hamilton and Jefferson.
So…let’s have a thought experiment for a few weeks: Why shouldn’t America draft an honest leader who will focus on 70% solutions for the next four years? You know…an adult?
(Two notes for reporters:
**Such a leader should be able to campaign 24/7 for the next six months. Therefore he/she likely can’t be an engaged parent with little kids.
**Although I’m one of the most conservative members of the Senate, I’m not interested in an ideological purity test, because even a genuine consensus candidate would almost certainly be more conservative than either of the two dishonest liberals now leading the two national parties.)
I’m more conservative than Donald Trump. Maybe Ben wants me to run.
Imagine if we had a candidate:
…who hadn’t spent his/her life in politics either buying politicians or being bought
…who didn’t want to stitch together a coalition based on anger but wanted to take a whole nation forward
…who pledged to serve for only one term, as a care-taker problem-solver for this messy moment
…who knew that Washington isn’t competent to micromanage the lives of free people, but instead wanted to SERVE by focusing on 3 or 4 big national problems,
A. A national security strategy for the age of cyber and jihad;
B. Honest budgeting/entitlement reform so that we stop stealing from future generations;
C. Empowering states and local governments to improve K-12 education, and letting Washington figure out how to update federal programs to adjust to now needing lifelong learners in an age where folks are obviously not going to work at a single job for a lifetime anymore; and
D. Retiring career politicians by ending all the incumbency protections, special rules, and revolving door opportunities for folks who should be public “servants,” not masters.
This is the strawman that the GOP #NeverTrump folks have decided to back. Rather than take their base to task for choosing the fraud over the principled conservative politicians they want to pretend that none were running. It isn’t that the party is broken, that their ideology is bankrupt, or that they have created a climate where hucksters are treated like trusted authorities and well-educated professionals are untrustworthy tricksters. No. It is that no good candidates ran!
Of course, this is bullshit. The 2016 crop for the GOP included accomplished governors and former governors with established records of moderate or hardline conservative governance, including Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker. There were current senators too, in the persons of Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Each of these candidates were viable. They have lists of accomplishments and proven track-records as men who have tried to establish and promote conservative governance.
So, no we did not lack for better options. We are “forced” to face this terrible choice because when the conservative base was given the option to choose between these committed conservative politicians and opportunistic purveyors of populist filth, like Ben Carson and Donald Trump, they overwhelmingly sided with the hucksters.
This really shouldn’t be that hard.
The oath I took is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. In brief, that means I’m for limited government.
And there is no reason to believe that either of these two national frontrunners believe in limiting anything about DC’s power.
I believe that most Americans can still be for limited government again — if they were given a winsome candidate who wanted Washington to focus on a small number of really important, urgent things — in a way that tried to bring people together instead of driving us apart.
I think there is room – an appetite – for such a candidate.
What am I missing?
More importantly, what are the people at the Fremont Wal-Mart missing?
Like too many modern conservatives, Sasse is incapable of seeing the Constitution as anything but what he imagines it to be. The founders themselves couldn’t agree on its meaning or intent, but Ben Sasse has the answers! This “there is only one true way forward and it is mine” is huge part of the toxic environment in DC that Sasse and his constituents in Nebraska seem so obsessed with.
Here is what you are missing, Ben: the appetite for your brand of conservative governance is only about a quarter of your own party (which represents something like 45% of the general public). In other words, the appetite is quite small.
Because I don’t think they are wrong. They deserve better. They deserve a Congress that tackles the biggest policy problems facing the nation. And they deserve a president who knows that his or her job is not to “reign,” but to serve as commander-in-chief and to “faithfully execute” the laws – not to claim imperial powers to rewrite them with his pen and phone.
The sun is mostly set on the Platte River — and the kids need baths. So g’night.
The people do deserve better. They do deserve a Congress that tackles the biggest policy problems of the nation. But those issues are bigger than just the concerns of folks at a Wal-Mart in Fremont, Nebraska. The people of Flint and thousands of other towns need to get the lead out of their water systems. The people of Detroit and Lima need solutions to deindustrialization and urban decay. The people of Tucson need K-12 schools that function. The people of nearly every city, town, and rural community need their dams, roads, bridges, and levees repaired. I can go on and on. The problems of life in the 21st century are too large to be tackled by local and state government alone. They have proven to be utterly incapable of it– there is nothing preventing them from tackling these problems now other than a lack of funding, political will, and/or know-how. They have had ample time to address these issues and they do nothing. Your solution is to let the world burn. I find that insufficient. What the people of this nation deserve are politicians willing to work with one another to find solutions to the problems that vex our nation in morally and ethically just ways, not grandstanding twits who prioritize their needs and wants over those of the people.
The sun is rarely visible in Ohio– and I need a drink. So g’day.