On Friday evening, Ben Sasse released a pretty strong statement basically telling America “Don’t be silly. Of course we’re not going to war in Venezuela.” It was a statement that had to be made because Donald Trump, during a press appearance, offhandedly mentioned a possible military option in the Latin American nation over human rights violations.
Well, enter a liberal reporter from Politico, who seems to be confused as to how being an elected representative of your constituency actually works.
Here’s the thing. Anyone who pays even a modicum of attention to Sasse’s statements before, during, and after the 2016 election knows that Sasse can not possibly be considered a Trump lackey. However, both Sasse and Trump have something in common: The majority of voters in Nebraska voted for them to represent them in Washington D.C. – one as Senator and one as President.
Sasse, a conservative, actually won by a larger margin than Trump, signaling that the people of Nebraska find Sasse a better representative of their views than Trump.
Sasse is voting the way Nebraskans elected him to vote. He has, time and again, proven himself to be a conservative interested in advancing conservatism. That he is an elected Republican and Trump is an elected Republican does not matter, because Trump or not, Sasse would be voting how he is voting.
Interestingly, this is an issue Sasse predicted would come up all the way back in November, when Nate Silver put up an analysis on which U.S. Senators were most likely to be “aligned” with Trump. Sasse’s response to the piece answers the fundamental problem with these types of analyses better than I ever could.
Silver’s analysis starts with three basic factors that “will presumably correlate with support for [the President-Elect’s] agenda”: issue alignment, personal support, and electoral incentive. All three of these are about policy and politics. None of them are about the primary job of Senators — upholding an oath of office to defend our Constitutional system of limited government. The American experiment is premised on a belief in freedom; government’s authorities are limited, while the freedoms of the people are nearly limitless. Public officials are morally bound to start with that premise.
The decision to defend our Constitution, which places lawmaking in the legislative branch, for instance, comes well ahead of anything else, including the particulars of whether or not I personally like new policies that might be advanced or scrapped. The question of “how” matters.
But think about Silver’s three variables. They are all basically indifferent to whether the policy is advanced through legal/Constitutional means. But I’m actually not allowed to be indifferent to those questions.
This is why it is so important to make the distinction between Trump’s agenda and how a Senator or Congressman votes. Sure, there are politicians – on both the Right and the Left – who vote based on party. But, there are a blessed few (Sasse included) who vote based on their duty to their voters and to the Constitution (regardless of whether their views toward it are more liberal or conservative).
This type of rational take on the job of U.S. Senator is why you can’t just label a guy like Sasse a “Trump guy.” It’s a lot deeper than that. Trump’s agenda aligns in many places (not all of it, thank God) with conservatism. Therefore, Sasse and Trump are going to be going in the same direction in many instances.
However, there is a lot Trump has said and done that Sasse (or any sensible conservative) will not support. That is the important test of a conservative politician. Based on his words and his deeds in the Senate, it is very likely that Sasse will pass that test. I just wish there were more like that.