Ben Sasse erupts at Russiagate hearing: It's "bullsh*t" that we fill these things with grandstanding soundbite garbage

Ben Sasse erupts at Russiagate hearing: It's "bullsh*t" that we fill these things with grandstanding soundbite garbage

He’s right as can be.

But still. Who peed in his corn flakes this morning?

I can’t tell if he’s mad here at Lindsey Graham, at the dispiriting prospect of watching Ted Cruz mug for Fox News’s cameras yet again, or if he’s just had his fill generally of partisanship disguised as thoughtful oversight. Whatever the answer, he’s so peeved that I’m thinking that bowl of Kellogg’s must have been no less than 85 percent urine.

We are forced once again to confront one of the great mysteries of Washington: Why does Ben Sasse want to be a senator?

He clearly hates the institution. He’s been complaining about its devolution from deliberative body to grandstanding halfwittery since the day he was sworn in more than five years ago. He has a habit of all but disappearing from public view for long stretches too, first during the ObamaCare repeal debate and more recently over the last year or so in order to avoid incurring Trump’s wrath ahead of his Senate primary. (It paid off, as Sasse won with 77 percent of the vote.) Now that he’s safely cleared that hurdle, it looks like he’s ready to re-emerge from hibernation and … resume reminding everyone how much he despises his job.

There’s a charitable theory and a less charitable theory for why he ran for a second term. The less charitable theory is that he simply enjoys the prestige of being a senator. Nothing more complicated than that. In a nation of 330 million people, only 100 get to decide who serves on the Supreme Court and in various influential positions in the executive branch. Only 535 get to shape the laws that govern the whole country. If you’re fortunate enough to be among them, you don’t give it up lightly.

Never mind that you don’t actually shape any laws because no bills get passed anymore excerpt for emergency stuff like the CARES Act, and even then it’s the leadership that writes the bills with little input from backbenchers. And never mind that you don’t actually decide who serves in the executive branch anymore because the president just appoints whoever he wants to any position in an “acting” capacity and the Senate doesn’t care enough about its advise-and-consent power to challenge him.

And never mind that you don’t actually get to decide who serves on the Supreme Court because SCOTUS nominations are such mindbendingly intense partisan clusterfarks that you’d be drummed out of the party if you don’t vote the way the base wants you to.

And never mind that, as Sasse aptly says in the clip, Senate hearings are reliably an embarrassment to the country that serve largely to provide ad material for future presidential campaigns.

Still and all, aside from the chamber being a relentless disgrace that’s derelict in all of its important duties, it’s very prestigious.

The more charitable theory is that Sasse sees better days ahead once the Trump era has passed away and he wants to be around for that stage of renewal. He’s probably not the only member of the party in the chamber who feels that way — just ride this out, wait for Biden to win this fall, then cross your fingers and hope that the Republican base drifts back towards small-government conservatism as its ideological north star and away from “whatever our nationalist godhead desires.” He’s probably talked himself into believing that he has a duty to try to hold his seat, whatever his dissatisfaction with Trump, because if he quits then some mindless Trump ass-kisser will win the seat instead. That’ll only extend the Trump era in the Senate after the president is gone. Better for Sasse to occupy that seat instead and, uh, vote however Trump wants him to just like an ass-kisser would — except reluctantly.

If in fact he thinks the party’s base is destined to “return” to small-government conservatism, he’ll need to explain to me why he thinks it was ever meaningfully interested in small-government conservatism to begin with. It was, and remains, interested in cultural conservatism. But small-government conservatism? Given how quickly the tea party turned from ferocious opponent of presidential power to Trump bootlicker, that era is much better explained in hindsight as a tidal wave of negative partisanship triggered by the Democrats’ takeover of government in 2008 than as some Reaganesque conservatarian renewal. And I think smart young Republican pols, from Tom Cotton to Josh Hawley to Ted Cruz to even Marco Rubio, have realized it. They’re all experimenting with facets of nationalism, which not only doesn’t disdain centralized power but fetishizes it in some respects.

If Sasse thinks there’s a market for old-school small-government conservatism, here’s what he can do. Run for president in 2024 and see how that message fares when pitted against Cotton’s “I’ll crack the skulls of your enemies, foreign and domestic” pitch. I know who my money’s on.

In lieu of an exit quotation, here’s Chuck Grassley promising some very serious action indeed to counter Trump’s attempt to purge the inspectors general who are trying to hold his administration accountable. Nothing will come of this, of course, because the Senate is a rubber-stamp that ultimately does whatever the cult leader wants now.

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