Ben Sasse won a landslide victory in the Republican primary for the Nebraska Senate race and stumped the New York Times. The latter couldn’t quite figure him out: “Mr. Sasse has spent most of his adult life either in doctoral study, working at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Bush administration, teaching at the University of Texas, or serving as the president of Midland University in Nebraska. Yet his campaign website features a March 20 appearance on the conservative television network The Blaze, during which the host, Glenn Beck, asked him to identify himself. ‘I’m a 42-year-old nonpolitician,’ Mr. Sasse responded. ‘Most of my background is in business turnaround projects. So I’ve worked for Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company.'” But how can he be both?!

Republican Senate hopeful Ben Sasse, center, laughs with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., left, and Neb. Gov. Dave Heineman in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, May 13, 2014, after winning his party's primary election. A crowd of Republican candidates jockeyed to succeed Nebraska's outgoing governor and senior U.S. senator in a busy primary election where voters also were set to select nominees for three other vacant offices. (AP Photo) Republican Senate hopeful Ben Sasse, center, laughs with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), left, and Neb. Gov. Dave Heineman in Lincoln, Neb. after winning his party’s primary election. (Associated Press)

When Republicans refuse to fit into neat liberal narrative, it really does throw the left for a loop. But Sasse owes his success to doing just that, defying labels. The Republicans need brainy and experienced candidates, but those who will to push for reform and go after Beltway sloth. In a candid memo released after his victory, his team dismissed the labels “tea party” and “establishment,” instead calling for unity around a message of conservative reform. Bingo! That’s what smart Republicans are doing these days, whether they work at think tanks or in the Senate. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has figured this out, pivoting from the shutdown to a series of meaty policy speeches.

Sasse’s aides also cited late congressman Jack Kemp as his model.  Kemp is an ideal choice for Sasse and the rest of the GOP. They dearly need to adopt Kemp’s pro-growth, optimistic, inclusive and reform-minded vision. For his big win, his effort to bridge the GOP divide and his call to revive the Kemp message, Sasse did himself and his party a world of good. For that we can say, well done, Mr. Sasse.