Ben Sasse is no friend to the resistance: He's Trump with extra sanctimony

Nebraska senator wants to be seen as a principled Trump foe — but on issues of substance, they're peas in a pod

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published January 3, 2018 5:00AM (EST)

Ben Sasse (AP/Nati Harnik)
Ben Sasse (AP/Nati Harnik)

So it seems that Sen. Ben Sasse really might be positioning himself to run as a primary challenger to Donald Trump in 2020. On New Year's Eve, the Nebraska Republican posted on Twitter a short video of himself taking a swipe at Trump's routine lying and attacks on the press. In the clip, Sasse piously announces that it's "not helpful to call the press the enemy of the American people" and warns that the republic "will not work without shared facts.”

The strategy worked as was likely intended: Sasse got a round of glowing media coverage, portraying him as a man of courage and integrity. It's also utter malarkey. Sasse likes to hear himself talk, no doubt about it, but when it actually comes to taking action, either to stop Trump or to stand up for facts, he is less than worthless. While he may not be as flamboyant as the orange commander-in-chief, Sasse is committed both to supporting Trump's agenda and spreading misinformation to bolster far-right causes.

Despite his claim to desire "shared facts," the record shows that Sasse is a huge proponent of scientific misinformation and even conspiracy theories. For instance, Sasse is a climate-change denier who voted against an amendment affirming the scientific reality that human activity is changing our planet's climate. He's backed up this hostility to science with a voting record that has produced a 0 percent scorecard from the League of Conservation Voters.

Sasse is smart enough to know better than to scream about how climate change is a hoax concocted by communists to destroy capitalism. But his "soft" denialism — he claims to "believe the climate is changing" but to have "less certainty than you about the magnitude of change," with "you" referring to people who actually understand the science — might actually be worse. It makes science denialism sound reasonable, which is simply cover for the same bug-eyed science-hating that drives some of the more raving believers of this conspiracy theory, such as President Donald Trump.

Sasse wrote a book about child-rearing, but his unwillingness to protect the only planet we have calls into question his commitment to children's actual futures. Instead, it's just one more pose, a way for him to look moral and commanding without actually doing anything to support younger generations.

The senator's commitment to destroying women's rights has also led him to embrace anti-science views and conspiracy theories. The number of false ideas he promotes about women's health care is simply staggering. He has referred to birth control as an "abortifacient," a reference to the false anti-choice claim that birth control methods such as the IUD or pill work by terminating pregnancies. (Both work by preventing pregnancy.) Instead he recommends living with your grandparents as his preferred form of birth control, an idea rejected by the 99 percent of Americans who choose to have premarital sex. He introduced a bill that would ban abortions at 20 weeks, falsely asserting that fetuses can feel pain that early in a pregnancy. (The neurological structures that feel and transmit pain don't exist until 29 weeks of gestation.)

Sasse was also an eager proponent of a hoax claim, perpetuated by anti-choice conspiracy theorists, that Planned Parenthood is harvesting fetal parts for profit. This hoax has been repeatedly disproved and should have been obviously false on its face, as the organization is a nonprofit.

Trump may be more colorful when it comes to lying, but the record is clear: Sasse is not a fan of facts. Just like Trump, he rejects those that don't suit his political agenda. Sasse's posturing about "shared facts" is, perversely, another bit of dishonesty.

As for the Nebraska senator's repeated efforts to distinguish himself from Trump, it's wise again to look past words and towards his actions. FiveThirtyEight has tracked members of Congress in the age of Trump, providing concrete evidence of who is actually resisting Trumpism and who is complicit — even when they claim not to be. Sasse, no surprise, is almost entirely complicit with Trump, voting for the president's agenda 89 percent of the time. This isn't strictly about being a Republican, either: There are six Republican senators who dissent from Trump more often than Sasse. Every single Democrat has a better record of opposing Trump.

To make it worse, Sasse voted repeatedly against disaster relief for victims of the horrific hurricane season, while even the Trump administration has supported some relief funding. So Sasse's break with Trump, in that instance, shows he's even colder and less interested in the government's responsibilities to its citizens.

Sasse's moral posturing doesn't lead to a better attitude than Trump about human rights issues, either. He talked a big game about honoring Rep. John Lewis's work as a civil rights leader, but groups like the NAACP and the ACLU give Sasse rock-bottom ratings when it comes to his actual votes on racial justice issues. He claims to be "pro-life," but his long record of opposing food and housing assistance, welfare and universal health care make it clear that his concern for "life" doesn't extend past its usefulness for punishing women who have sex by depriving them of abortion access. When it comes to the immigration issue, Sasse has supported virulently racist policies, pushing the false notion that immigrants cause crime and attacking the "so-called Dreamers" while introducing bills that would further marginalize people who came to the United States as small children and have often never known another country as home.

If Sasse is running against Trump, he's banking on the idea that what Republicans want is Trump, but with an added dose of self-importance and sanctimony. There's no evidence this is the case. On the contrary, Trump appears to have won the 2016 primary, despite having no political history or an ability to even feign understanding of the issues, because voters liked the fact that he served up naked bigotry without any conventional Republican moral posturing. Sasse is likely to read as the phony he is to conservative base voters, who have made it clear that they are done with pretending that the politics of sadism is a noble endeavor.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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