NE Senator Ben Sasse Inherits John McCain's Mantle

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

Whether he intended to or not, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has taken over the mantle of the late Arizona Senator John McCain, who was seen as the standard bearer in the Senate. McCain presented himself as a “reasonable” Republican who wanted to instruct on true authenticity and democracy, reach across the aisle, and be chummy with the media.

I say this is intentional. Getting two books published before you’re 40 and using your Senate platform to paint yourself as a true champion of the party looks like a careful crafting of an image. With Sasse’s educational background and career as an academic, a theoretician, and a policy wonk, crafting is required if one wishes to reach for higher office; and slathering for higher ground is written all over Sasse’s face.

The same could be said of McCain, who always gave the impression that he was made for greater things, and had no problem letting you know it. The fact that he ran for President in 2000 and 2008 cemented that impression. In both presidential runs, I always had the distinct feeling that his runs for the highest office in the land were less about the good of the country, and more about the need to prove something. What that something was, we’ll never know.

After McCain’s death in 2018, Doug Casey of Townhall Media discussed McCain’s unvarnished legacy, rather than the hagiographic one burnished by a media whose sole role was to canonize him. Casey had this to say:

“Now, I never met the man, but it seems that he was capable of personal charm. His notoriously volatile temper was promoted as a sign of authenticity, instead of instability. That, plus his time as a prisoner of war [POW], is basically what his whole reputation is built on.

“Spending five years as a POW was of course terrible, however it certainly helped his later political career. His entire life, reputation, and position are built around this fact. Neither did it hurt that he was the son of a high-ranking admiral. How else could somebody who was a known screwup throughout his youth reach the political levels he did?”

Sasse is always Mr. Charm, so far lacking the irascible personality gene. What he doesn’t lack is being full of his own virtue, whether it is lecturing the Judiciary Committee on civics, slamming his fellow Republicans for making a constitutional challenge to Electoral College votes, condemning President Trump for the January 6 Capitol unrest, or warning against the Republican Party being overtaken by QAnon. Sasse always seeks to establish two things: 1) I’m smarter than the rest of the room; and, 2) I am not that type of Republican.

Casey presented this compelling detail about McCain:

“More important, he was a man with no guiding political principles, except perhaps building the power of the State. He disguised that by cultivating the image of a maverick. […]

“It was purely public relations that turned a man without any principles into a lovable maverick. He was the exact opposite. He was a lifelong member of the Deep State.”

Cultivation of a particular image and ensuring your PR is on point are pivotal to one’s political career, and Sasse seems to have this nailed down.

When National Review and the Atlantic regularly allow you to pen op eds, when the New York Times drops Senator Tom Cotton, then you have a cozy relationship with the press. Atlantic Editor Jeffrey Goldberg likes to quote and retweet Sasse’s articles that he pens for the publication. Even in other publication’s headlines, Sasse is treated like the Golden Child.

McCain was definitely a media darling. Whether it was that Maverick persona or his snarky repartee, the press loved to get sounds bites from him, especially if the sound bite tanked or attacked a fellow Republican. McCain was always good for that.

So is Sasse. Blue checks like Kyle Griffin and Robert Reich are lauding Sasse’s stand against QAnon as brave, and necessary. I still don’t know what QAnon is all about, but apparently it is the Left, and NeverTrump Republicans new bogeyman. Sasse has bought into this narrative, and reminds the media—his base—and America that he is “not like them”.

The Independent UK covered Sasse’s very long Facebook tome, where he condemned his fellow Republicans for their mounted challenge to the Electoral College votes.

“Senator Ben Sasse blasted his Republican colleagues in a stinging 2,200-word critique in which he accuses those going along with Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election of being engaged in a ‘dangerous ploy’.”

Sasse’s Facebook post made this hyperbolic judgment:

“We have a deep cancer in American politics right now: Both Republicans and Democrats are growing more distrustful of the basic processes and procedures that we follow. Some people will respond to these arguments by saying: “The courts are just in the tank for Democrats!” And indeed the President has been tweeting that “the courts are bad” (and the Justice Department, and more). That’s an example of the legitimacy crisis so many of us have been worried about. Democrats spent four years pretending Trump didn’t win the election, and now (shocker) a good section of Republicans are going to spend the next four years pretending Biden didn’t win the election.

“All the clever arguments and rhetorical gymnastics in the world won’t change the fact that this January 6th effort is designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans simply because they voted for someone in a different party. We ought to be better than that.  If we normalize this, we’re going to turn American politics into a Hatfields and McCoys endless blood feud – a house hopelessly divided.”

I have a few years on Sasse, and I have to say, where has he been? Maybe it’s a problem with too much time studying history rather than living it, but American politics has been a blood feud since 2000; and it’s only gotten bloodier. The issue is not disenfranchising “millions of Americans simply because they voted for someone in a different party,” the issue is that only one party is allowed to do the disenfranchising—and it’s not the Republicans.

But Sasse is not that kind of Republican you see, and if it means pissing on his colleagues and taking a position even he doesn’t believe, but flows with the conventional wisdom and good press, he’ll take it.

Kind of like… John McCain. McCain’s last act was his 2018 vote to preserve the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. A cancerous tumor did little to humble him or give him perspective; he wanted the vote to be a last stab in the eye to President Trump. He claimed he was standing for the American people, but he was really just standing for himself.

As the Independent UK glowingly reported,

“This is the dramatic moment Senator John McCain defied Donald Trump to vote ‘no’ on his own Republican Party’s attempt to reform the Affordable Health Care Act known as Obamacare.

“To the visible shock of many colleagues on the Senate floor, the footage shows the veteran Arizona politician pause, before loudly proclaiming “no”.

“In response, audible gasps can be heard on the floor, with some Democrats clapping as he returned to his chair.

“His vote effectively was effectively the decider, killing the so-called ‘skinny’ repeal, which would have scaled back some of the more controversial provisions, is the third failed attempt to repeal Obamacare.”

[…]

“Ahead of the vote, Mr. McCain had not revealed his intentions, but told reporters to “watch the show” as he entered the chamber.”

Sasse pretty much used the same playbook, and used Facebook as his soapbox. McCain liked to play to the cameras, Sasse likes to play with his rhetoric.

Here is a telling bit from Sasse’s Senate bio:

“An opponent of perpetual incumbency, he has no intention of spending his life in the Senate.”

No statement about how long Sasse plans to stay around, though. Since his “Team Sasse” fundraising site is prominently placed in this Twitter bio, one can only assume it will be for at least another 6-year term.

Or perhaps he is polishing his bona fides for a 2024 run.