Somewhere Bill Kristol sobs softly into a pillow. If not Sasse then who?
Don’t say Flake. No one likes him! Plus, instead of promoting him as a reasonable, principled alternative to Trump’s feral populism, dopey liberals would follow their instincts and spend the bulk of the campaign hounding him for his Kavanaugh vote.
Sasse doesn’t completely rule out a primary challenge, but watch three minutes of the clip below and see for yourself how enthusiastic he sounds. Normally the argument against primarying a president is prudential: It’s silly to go to the great expense and trouble of mounting a national campaign that’s destined to end in landslide defeat. Sasse’s argument is more ideological. He’s a conservative and most Republican voters are not, a painful lesson he’s learned over the last few years. So why would he run? What would be the point? A Reagan ’76 challenge to the incumbent for the soul of the party doesn’t work in this case because that battle was already fought two years ago. Trump won. The Republican soul looks much more like him than it does like Sasse.
The Republican senator from Nebraska said that was because Trump, “has captured the majority of the Republican Party over the course of the last two-and-a-half years. The Republican Party electorate is pretty comfortable with the ‘anti’ positions that President Trump takes on a lot of issues.”
Speaking at a National Press Club luncheon, Sasse also said it was unlikely he could see himself making a run for the White House.
“I honestly spent 16 months cleaning up then two-year old baby vomit off the floor of a campaign bus, and the thought of doing that in 50 states instead of just 93 counties sounds absolutely terrible,” Sasse said. “So I think noxious weed control board of Dodge County, Nebraska, is the far more probable scenario for me.”
He sounds iffy on whether he’ll run for reelection to the Senate too, for good reason. One of the knocks Flake has taken this year from anti-Trumpers is that he talks a good game about standing up to Trump but, when push came to shove, he wasn’t willing to risk an embarrassing primary defeat by standing for reelection to the Senate. If not for Joe Arpaio’s incredibly ill-advised primary run, which split the populist vote in Arizona, we might well have ended up with Trumpy Kelli Ward as GOP nominee instead of Martha McSally. (Which would have all but guaranteed a Kyrsten Sinema victory in the general.) That is to say, Flake wasn’t willing to stand up to Trump even insofar as trying to keep a Senate seat out of the hands of a MAGA-approved populist. What about Sasse, though? If, next year, some Nebraska version of Ward announces his/her intention to challenge him, would he run purely in the interest of trying to keep his seat out of populist hands? The party’s soul belongs to Trump but not every Senate seat does. Yet.