We’re at T-minus-180 for the Supreme Court reveal, after which we can reliably predict that Republicans will (mostly?) close ranks to confirm the choice. Despite all of the talk about caucus vetoes, there is little upside for any Senate Republican to torpedo a top-court nomination. Those stunts, as Jeff Flake can tell you, are best reserved for appellate-court nominations. Heading into the midterms, the GOP needs all the unity it can muster to maintain voter enthusiasm and turnout.
But what about in 2020? Politico reads a few Nebraska tea leaves and divines that Flake may not be the only current Senator to think about appointing a couple of Supreme Court justices in the future:
Sasse, a 46-year-old Harvard and Yale-educated former university president, has established himself as a fiery anti-Trump figure. During a Dec. 2015 speech on the Senate floor, he derided then-candidate Trump as a “megalomaniac strongman.” Later in the campaign, he called Trump “creepy” and said he was running to become a “king”; said he doesn’t think Trump has “any core principles”; and skipped Trump’s nominating convention to “instead take his kids to watch some dumpster fires.”
More recently, Sasse has called the president’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports “dumb,” and has described Trump’s escalating trade war with China “nuts.” His opposition to the tariffs is shared by other farm-state Republicans, though they’ve used far less pointed language.
The barrage has led to speculation that Sasse is interested in waging a long-shot primary challenge to Trump in 2020. He’s set to make a national splash with the release of a new treatise, “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal.” According to a description provided by Sasse’s publisher, he will bemoan a “pessimistic” country where Americans are “so lonely we can’t see straight ― and it bubbles out as anger.”
In a move that’s sure to further stoke speculation about a presidential campaign, Sasse has started a new tax-exempt political group, America 101, whose mission states: “We believe that in order to prepare ourselves for the challenges of decades to come, fundamental changes are needed. It’s time to get back to basics.”
Getting back to basics is good, especially for conservatives. Practically everyone would support extracting the toxicity from political dialogue, too. Just as soon as they finally own the libs/cons for all time, of course. It’s not for nothing that people made fun of the late Rodney King’s heartfelt plea, “Can’t we all just get along?” Of course we can … once “we” win. “We” will be sooooooo magnanimous, as soon as “we” make “them” all pay for “their” transgressions. That puts the Great Healing Election Cycle somewhere around the Twelfth of Never, with apologies to Johnny Mathis fans.
That’s what makes Sasse 2020 an unlikely proposition on its own, even without the issue of an incumbent of the same party seeking re-election. There’s no doubt that Sasse is a solid conservative of the type we’d looove to have in Congress and in the White House, one serious about issues like fiscal responsibility and the Leviathan of Washington. What’s not terribly clear is how serious voters are about those issues, even within the rank and file of the GOP. We had a few such candidates running for president in 2016, and they all fell far short of the mark while Trump, populism, and he fights ran roughshod over them all. With the party focused on holding the White House in 2020, Sasse may be the right man at the very wrong time for some voters, and for others the wrong man overall. If Trump manages to score another win at the Supreme Court and work out trade deals that at least marginally improve the previous status quo, that’ll be enough for Republican primary voters and might be enough in the general election.
In that sense, Sasse would do better to focus on holding his Nebraska seat. If he surrenders it to conduct a quixotic primary challenge to Trump, his Senate seat is likely to be filled by a populist rather than a conservative. His goals might be better served with another Sasse term in the Senate, and then perhaps a higher aim when voters are better disposed to reward consistency and values. You know, after they’ve owned the libs enough.