The latest example: Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s statement on Sunday bashing a quartet of executive orders signed by Trump over the weekend that seeks to end-run a gridlocked Congress when it comes to coronavirus relief among other things.
“The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop,” said Sasse. “President Obama did not have the power to unilaterally rewrite immigration law with DACA, and President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law.”
Sasse’s, uh, sass provoked the President.
“RINO Ben Sasse, who needed my support and endorsement in order to get the Republican nomination for Senate from the GREAT State of Nebraska, has, now that he’s got it (Thank you President T), gone rogue, again,” tweeted Trump Monday in the platonic ideal of a run-on sentence. “This foolishness plays right into the hands of the Radical Left Dems!”
Now, it’s absolutely true that Sasse, who was one of Trump’s most outspoken critics in the early days of his presidency, scaled back his rhetoric until he had secured the GOP nomination in Nebraska’s May primary.
It’s absolutely not true that Sasse “needed” Trump’s support to win. He crushed a little-known opponent by more than 50 points. (Sasse is heavily favored to win a second term this fall in strongly Republican Nebraska.)
But all of that is sort of secondary to what Sasse has been doing since that primary: Making very clear where he and Trump disagree — whether that’s on the clearing of Lafayette Square during the protests that followed the death of George Floyd or the ongoing coronavirus negotiations.
There’s a strategy here — and it’s very similar to what we’ve seen people like Larry Hogan and Liz Cheney do in recent weeks.
What Sasse is trying to do is carve out a space for a constitutional conservative in the post-Trump GOP. He’s not going to run for president in 2024 as either as a total Trump acolyte or a full-on Trump hater (and I do think he will run). The former lane is going to be VERY crowded and the latter lane probably doesn’t exist in any meaningful way in a Republican primary.
Instead Sasse is trying to forge a third way — Bill Clinton smiles wryly — between those two extremes: A candidate who believes in traditional conservative values and thinks Trump has strayed at times from them but not someone wholly motivated by their hate for this President.
The Point: The fight for what the Republican Party looks like after Trump leaves — whether in January 2021 or January 2025 — will have generational effects on our politics. And it’s already begun in earnest.