Anyone who hoped Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) would be the next Bob Corker, one of the leaders of the anti-Trump movement from within the Senate, gave up on that long ago. And on Tuesday, the senator from Nebraska and (maybe former?) never-Trumper got what he ostensibly wanted with his delicate dance around President Trump since then: a coveted tweet-endorsement to protect him from a pro-Trump primary challenger.
Actually, we hold up Corker as the Senate’s most GOP prominent critic of Trump, but he also disappointed never-Trumpers. Even though the former senator from Tennessee compared the White House to an adult day care, he tempered his criticism of Trump at times, too. And Arizona’s Jeff Flake retired rather than try to stay in the Senate and give speeches about Trump’s authoritarian leanings, and he voted with Trump most of the time anyway. (As Sasse has.)
The late senator John McCain was perhaps the only reliable Republican opponent of Trump’s in the Senate. In the Senate today, Mitt Romney of Utah tiptoes the line of criticizing Trump, but he sure isn’t giving speeches warning that Trump is a danger to the Republican Party as he did during the 2016 elections.
In fact, in all of Congress, the only Republican who consistently speaks out against Trump is no longer a Republican: Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan supported an impeachment inquiry into Trump and left the party to become an independent. And he alone was critical of Sasse for doing what it takes to get this endorsement.
The reasons for this are clear, and we've been over them a number of times: This is Trump's party now. Republicans who resist that largely lost their jobs or left.
The Republicans who have stayed elected have adapted to survive. That includes Sasse. During the 2016 election, Sasse was one of the first never-Trumpers of the Republican Party. He didn’t vote for Trump, comparing him to white supremacist David Duke.
Trump got elected. And now Sasse is up for reelection, and he’ll appear on the same ballot as Trump. And though Sasse has been extremely outspoken about Trump’s trade wars (he called tariffs “a massive tax increase on American families”), he isn’t out there telling people to vote for one of Trump’s three primary challengers or anything. In fact, Sasse was once the subject of “Will he run against Trump?” talk. That’s not happening.
But it takes two to make an endorsement and we should note that Trump is playing nicer than usual. He didn’t have to endorse Sasse. He has demonstrated his kingmaker power in the 2018 elections when he helped oust congressman Mark Sanford in South Carolina for criticizing him. (Who is now trying to challenge Trump for president.)
Perhaps that’s because White House aides tried to broker a sort-of truce between Sasse and Trump, Politico reported in 2018.
There’s also evidence that Trump is just more willing to go along with what other Republican leaders want on Senate races. In Alabama’s Senate race, he is opposing disgraced candidate Roy Moore after supporting him less than two years ago. In Kansas, Republicans desperately want someone other than failed gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach to run for Senate. Trump has endorsed Kobach in the past over Republican objections; he hasn’t this time, so far.
So is the Republican Party a tiny bit less fractured than it was in 2016 or even 2018? Yes, most probably. Some of that is Trump’s efforts. But most of it is because never-Trumpers like Sasse have moved themselves under Trump’s wings to survive.