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I remember the first time I met Ben Sasse, sitting and chatting next to him at a GOP fundraising breakfast in Virginia in June 2014. My former boss, retiring US Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), introduced us. “He’s the real deal,” Kyl said. Coming from the highly respected Assistant GOP Leader, that meant something. I’ve long held Kyl in high regard as one of the most effective and intelligent Senators I’ve worked with.
The Harvard and St. John’s educated Sasse was the favorite of National Review magazine among US Senate candidates that fall, winning a cover photo. Then-42 years old, the bright, brash young conservative was seen as a potential presidential candidate.
The Ph.D. historian (Yale University) and, in his 30s, a successful college President (he turned around Midland University in Nebraska) immediately impressed. He homeschooled his children and wrote about their education, including detasseling corn. “Ben is focused on the future of work, the future of war, and the First Amendment,” his official website states. “He worries that the Senate lacks urgency about cyber and about the nation’s generational debt crisis. An opponent of perpetual incumbency, he has no intention of spending his life in the Senate.”
Sasse published two terrific books during his first term in the Senate: The Vanishing American Adult, about our new generation’s “coming of age” crisis, and Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal. I read and recommend them both as insightful, history-based, practical books devoid of the politics and partisanship featured in most other books authored by US Senators (exception: books by Sasse’s friend, Sen. Mike Lee).
But not long after Sasse’s quick ascent as a public figure, two things eclipsed. The election of Donald Trump and the pandemic. I might add a third — Congress’s and both the Trump and Biden administration’s reaction to it, hosing our economy with more than $9 trillion in new spending and sending our public debt soaring to $31 trillion. That must be a depressing and angering development for someone concerned “about the nation’s generation debt crisis.”
Perhaps unfairly, Sasse became known as a “never Trumper.” He was one of six GOP US Senators impacted by the events of January 6th at the US Capitol in 2021 who held Trump responsible and voted to impeach him. “This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President’s addiction to constantly stroking division … This is not how we peacefully transition power,” Sasse told Nebraska Public Media.
“As the attack Wednesday was ‘unfolding on television, Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was as … rioters [pushed] against Capitol police, trying to get into the building,’ Sasse said. ‘That was happening. He was delighted,’” reported left-leaning HuffPost. “I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office,” Sasse told CBSNews. “He swore an oath to the American people to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. He acted against that. What he did was wicked.”
Trump, as is his custom, denigrated Sasse, who himself has just been overwhelmingly reelected to a second term by Nebraskans, carrying every county in the Cornhusker State. YahooNews:
“He’s bad news, Ben Sasse,” Trump said in May. “He begged for my endorsement, the day after he started hitting me and we hit much harder than he knows how to hit. He’s bad news,” Trump said during a telerally held for Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster (R).
“Should have never given him the endorsement. He was horrible at the beginning. And then he was so good … and then the following day, literally, he started hitting back,” Trump added.
Trump endorsed the Nebraska Republican in September 2019, saying in a tweet at the time that he had “done a wonderful job representing the people of Nebraska.”