Ben Sasse talks a fantastic game. When he laments a Congress whose members would rather be TV pundits than lawmakers, people cheer. When he talks about Congress not fulfilling its core functions, people take notice. But the response from some is that Sasse himself is all talk and no action. The growing chorus from Trump supporters it that Ben Sasse is a disloyal do-nothing who criticizes the President with no record to show for it.
On the latter, it is worth noting that Sasse has voted for the President’s Obamacare repeal, tax cuts, and judges. In fact, Sasse has been not just a reliable vote for conservatives, but also for most of President Trump’s agenda. To the extent Sasse has been critical of President Trump, a great deal of it has been about the President using powers Congress abdicated and needs to take back — a view many of those who are now attacking him held with him when Obama was President. The other prominent criticisms from Sasse towards the President are about the President’s conduct in office — criticisms shared by even a lot of Republicans.
That is really the point. The people attacking Sasse have little to attack with Sasse’s votes. They are not attacking Sasse for upholding the conservative principles they claim to have. They are attacking him for being disloyal to a man — they are in a cult of personality.
To be sure, Sasse does not have a deep well of legislation to cite as his own. But then the Senate of the United States no longer works in ways conducive to any one Senator staking out claims to legislation. By and large, both Schumer and McConnell push through leadership drafted legislation at the expense of everything else. Short of an Elizabeth Warren or a John McCain, who could use their celebrity like profile to push through their own initiatives, it does not happen.
Additionally, Sasse is a conservative. In the 231 years since the ratification of the Constitution, it should be possible for Congress to make no more laws. Conservatives should support a man who spends more time opposing new laws than trying to pass more. Congress cannot even pass a budget, its core function, and that is not Ben Sasse’s fault.
I do think Sasse could and should use the rules of the Senate a bit more. While the leadership of both sides greatly discourages individual senators from pushing legislation to the floor, Sasse could harness the rules if he wanted to. A good parliamentarian like Dr. James Wallner, who knows the ins and outs of Senate procedure, could help Sasse.
Ben Sasse seems to long for the days where Senators thought about the long term. But the Senate has never just been about thinkers. It has had legislative leaders as well who were not necessarily its leaders. I encourage Sasse to take some of his core passions and use the parliamentary procedure of the Senate to advance them.
But let’s not kid ourselves. He is one man. He is also one man with a conscience living by a set of principles many of those who attack him claimed to hold until Trump got elected. The objections to Sasse come not from a conservative position, but from a cult of personality that is more intent on defending Trump at all costs than rolling back the size and scope of the federal government.
Ben Sasse maintaining his principles exposes many of his critics as rudderless sheeple looking to be led by a strong man. That is an unforgivable sin.