Ben Sasse on not voting for Trump: "This is in some ways an 1860 moment"

I’m starting to think this guy might not vote for Trump.

Skip to 8:50 of the clip below for the interview. You already know where he stands on Trump if you read his Facebook post this morning, but the video’s worth watching for a few reasons. One: Although Sasse acknowledges that Super Tuesday and March 15th will be “significant” in deciding the nominee, the unmistakable sense here is that it’s going to be Trump and conservatives need to begin preparing for that reality. Is that a fair conclusion to draw? Given this AP report of early voting in Florida, I’m thinking … yeah.

The Florida primary is weeks away, but tens of thousands of voters headed to the polls Monday for early voting in this critical contest that could make-or-break the presidential aspirations of native son, Sen. Marco Rubio…

Absentee and early voting are popular in Florida. Projections show that more than half of those voting in the primary will have cast their ballots before the March 15 primary. So far, more than 303,000 Republican voters and more than 261,000 Democratic voters have submitted their absentee ballots, according to University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, who is tracking statewide absentee ballot returns…

Smith said almost 44 percent of the absentee Republican votes so far are from people who did not vote in 2012.

Trump is comfortably ahead in every poll of Florida right now and it’s practically a given that he’ll clean up among formerly disaffected voters who have decided to participate this year. That means he’s already banking votes and building a lead in Florida that Rubio will somehow need to overcome on March 15th. Even if the race shifts over the next two weeks and Rubio overtakes him in the Florida polls, Trump may still end up winning the state by virtue of the early votes he’s piled up. Rubio needs movement immediately. If he doesn’t get it and ends up losing on his home field, his days as a serious contender are over.

Two: At one point Sasse, looking ahead to the general election, says he doesn’t think voters will be forced to choose between two dishonest New York liberals in November. There’ll be other candidates. Anyone in particular he has in mind? Nope, he says. But … it’s impossible not to notice whose Twitter account has suddenly gotten very active.

Michigan, where Romney’s endorsement could have a bit more influence than usual, votes a week from tomorrow. If he hasn’t endorsed Rubio by then, the only obvious explanation would be that he’s thinking seriously of running as an independent himself. Because of ballot deadlines, a third-party Romney candidacy would need to move very quickly after the results tomorrow night to start rounding up the signatures Mitt would need in different states. That’s another potential thorn in Rubio’s side. Romney probably can’t wait until Florida votes on the 15th before making his move. And if he moves before then, the news that he’s getting in would probably deflate Rubio’s candidacy by turning some of his supporters into early Romney supporters.

Incidentally, according to Ali Weinberg of NBC, only one of 12 different conservative GOP senators she asked told her they’d definitely vote for Trump in the general election. Others said they’d support the nominee but wouldn’t give a definitive answer on Trump. Just for starters, you’d have to think that Sasse, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul will all cut bait and go their own way. More will follow once Democrats get the media to start hammering stuff like this:

What were your other impressions of the Soviet Union?

I was very unimpressed. Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.

You mean firm hand as in China?

When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world–

“Trump on Soviet oppression: ‘Not a firm enough hand.'” The general election’s gonna be grrrrreat!

Three: Sasse makes one good point here about the politics of this and one not so good one. The good one is that Trump fans have every right to say they’re fed up with the GOP’s contemptible failure to deliver for the working-class but that anti-Trumpers also have every right to say they’re fed up with Trump playing footsie with white nationalists and barfing up creepy authoritarian agenda items for when he begins his “reign.” Megan McArdle, who compiled a list of reasons offered by people who’ve joined the #NeverTrump movement for an article today, tweeted over the weekend that she’s surprised at how surprised Trump fans seem to be at how distasteful anti-Trumpers find him, to the point where they’re prepared to sit out the election even if it means a Clinton presidency. We may be in an awkward period soon when Trump supporters, having won the grand prize of the GOP nomination, look up and find themselves needing to win the White House with 20 percent of the party suddenly gone. Like Sasse says, a party’s just a tool. If it no longer serves its use, and its use for a conservative voter is steering government in a conservative direction, then you discard that tool. Many will.

The not so good point is when Sasse claims that Trump is filling a void created by the GOP when it grew too vacuous about “first principles.” Is … that what Trumpmania is about? I’ve heard lots of smart explanations for it — it’s a response to globalization and mass immigration from people who want jobs repatriated; it’s a demand for strength after a long period of national and cultural diffidence; it’s a rebellion by “Fishtown” after being taken for granted by “Belmont” for so many years; it’s “identity politics for white people” in a country that’s increasingly diverse. One thing it does not seem to be, except maybe to the extent that Cruz’s share of the vote overlaps with Trump’s, is an expression of frustration that the GOP isn’t as conservative or in touch with the Constitution as it should be. On the contrary, a lot of Trump fans seem like they’d be fine with Trump taking a dump on the Constitution and engaging in ambitious executive power grabs, like “opening up libel laws,” so long as it means increasing their share of the pie. (Sasse himself has criticized Trump’s caesarist tendencies but I wonder if he knows, or would admit, that Trump has some popular support for that.) Maybe Sasse is saying this simply because it’s part of his brand: He’s a conservative, therefore any problem with the party must ultimately boil down to “not conservative enough.” The fact that he’s saying this, though, when we’re possibly 24 hours away from the end of Cruz 2016 feels jarring. If the right was hungering for a return to first principles, Cruz would be on a glide path to the nomination, no? Yet here we are, with Ben Sasse wondering if this is an “1860 moment.” Gulp.

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David Strom 6:01 PM on February 01, 2023