Ben Sasse calls fellow Republicans "institutional arsonists" for Electoral College stunt

"Adults don't point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government," Sasse wrote of his fellow Republicans

Published December 31, 2020 4:22PM (EST)

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) (Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) (Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska called on his fellow GOP colleagues to "reject" any attempts to derail the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory, writing in a Wednesday night Facebook post that Republican plans to overturn the Electoral College were a "dangerous ploy" pushed by "institutional arsonists."

"Having been in private conversation with two dozen of my colleagues over the past few weeks, it seems useful to explain in public why I will not be participating in a project to overturn the election — and why I have been urging my colleagues also to reject this dangerous ploy," Sasse wrote in the lengthy post.

"It seems to me that the best way we can serve our constituents is to tell the truth as we see it, and explain why. And in my view, President-Elect Biden didn't simply win the election; President Trump couldn't persuade even his own lawyers to argue anything different than that in U.S. federal courts," Sasse said. He added that the Republicans now crying foul on the outgoing president's behalf are only pretending, acting out of fear of the president's core voters: "When we talk in private, I haven't heard a single Congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent — not one. Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will 'look' to President Trump's most ardent supporters."

But without evidence to support their claims, Sasse said, these "institutional arsonist members of Congress" are only "playing with fire."

"Let's be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there's a quick way to tap into the president's populist base without doing any real, long-term damage. But they're wrong — and this issue is bigger than anyone's personal ambitions," Sasse wrote. "Adults don't point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.

The comments came hours after Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, a Trump ally, became the first GOP senator to join the effort by a group of House Republicans to contest the results of the election. Hawley's formal objection will precipitate a debate about the votes — only the third one since 1887 — but will not change the election's outcome.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine wondered why Hawley was launching the doomed crusade, especially in light of dozens of recent court decisions. "I do not think that he will prevail in his quest," she told The Washington Post. "And I question why he is doing it when the courts have unanimously thrown out the suits that the President's team have filed for lack of credible evidence."

It's a question that the Majority Leader attempted to ask Hawley himself during a conference call with Senate Republicans on Thursday, however, the freshman senator was not on the line. Hawley later sent an email to his fellow Republicans attempting to explain his rationale and calling out "the unprecedented failure of states like Pennsylvania to follow their own election laws." 

But as Sasse's post also highlighted, the dozens of failed post-election lawsuits filed on Trump's behalf, which Sasse dismissed as a "fundraising strategy," never provided evidence of widespread election systems failures. 

"It's swampy politics," Sasse wrote, "and it shows very little respect for the sincere people in my state who are writing these checks."

After the election, the Trump campaign blasted supporters with emails asking for money to fund legal challenges to the results. The first wave of those donations went mostly to paying down the campaign's existing debt, but within days the majority of new contributions were soon redirected to Trump's new leadership PAC, Save America.

After coasting through Nebraska's GOP primary this summer, Sasse, at times among the more vocal of Trump's Republican dissenters, ramped up his sporadic criticism. In a private call with constituents, he ripped Trump as a failed leader who "sells out our allies," "kisses dictators' butts," "mocks evangelicals" behind their backs and mistreats women. In the future, Sasse said on the call, voters will look back and wonder why Republicans ever thought that "selling a TV-obsessed narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea."

"It was not a good idea," he declared. 

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

MORE FROM Roger Sollenberger