I have friends, both liberal and conservative, who loathe Donald Trump. Aware of my general support (and past work) for Sen. Rand Paul and his libertarian politics, a few have let me know over the last few years they are disgusted with the senator’s ongoing personal friendship with the president.
Actually, I’m being nice. Their rhetoric is much harsher than what I’m describing.
I tell them they are entitled to their opinion, but always point out that Paul allies with the president where they agree on the senator’s libertarian issues, and part ways respectfully where they disagree. It’s never personal between the two. I also note that no other Republican senator votes against Trump’s agenda more than Rand Paul.
Some of these friends also admire the fact that Sen. Ben Sasse consistently speaks out against Trump. A leading member of the ‘Never Trump’ GOP brigade, Sasse regularly warns about the dangers of this president, including the potentially troublesome constitutional precedent set by Trump’s recent national emergency declaration on the border.
When it comes to the tension between Sasse and this president, it feels personal. In fact, that’s what many of Sasse’s Trump-hating fans seem to relish most.
Yet, Sasse votes with Trump 86 percent of the time — 15 percent more than Paul does (71 percent). Sasse voted with Trump yet again Thursday on the national emergency declaration, upsetting many of his conservative supporters.
Glad to see 12 Republicans uphold the Constitution. Disappointed in some others. Ben Sasse's worst moment yet.
— Mona Charen (@monacharenEPPC) March 14, 2019
Unlike Sasse’s admirers, I’m not particularly surprised by his vote. Sometimes politicians have to be at least somewhat political to be effective, or even to save their hide. Sen. Paul has sometimes had to navigate difficult political terrain as well. It’s not a perfect world, especially in politics.
Sasse’s vote today makes it more likely he will be re-elected, but less likely he will be admired or respected. Trump creates these ironic, mutually exclusive choices.
— Matt Lewis (@mattklewis) March 14, 2019
But what I do take issue with is judging either Republican leader based on partisan misperceptions about what it truly means to be for or against this president — or more precisely, to be for or against Trump for what reasons.
What is perception and what is reality?
Most attribute Sasse’s bowing down to Trump this week to the fact that he is up for re-election next year in generally pro-Trump Nebraska. Yet, Trump is even more popular in Paul’s home state of Kentucky, though the senator isn’t up for re-election until 2022.
Still, Paul has opposed Trump on more substantive issues constantly and consistently more than any other senator, despite the two men remaining friends. That relationship continues to make Trump’s enemies’ blood boil. Sasse has been an under the radar legislative ally of Trump far more than Paul, despite expressing countless public grievances against the president, and even hinting he could primary Trump in 2020.
With yesterday’s revealing vote, some are finally calling Sasse’s bluff.
‘Sasse voted with Trump,’ writes the Washington Examiner’s Tiana Lowe.
‘If he refuses to take an actual material stand against perhaps the most egregious and norm-decimating action of Trump’s entire presidency, then how is it anything more than grandstanding?’
‘Sen. Rand Paul has earned plenty of ire from his base for his public sycophancy to the president,’ Lowe adds. Yet, ‘One vote of Paul’s outweighed every word uttered by Sasse in the past three years. When it mattered more than ever, Sasse abandoned a career of promising to exemplify constitutional conservatism, and for what?’
Good question. Lowe wasn’t the only one who asked it.
Sasse claims the ‘constitutional conservative’ label, but it is the one thing he’s been willing to sacrifice. Paul claims Trump as a friend, but never at the expense of his fidelity to the Constitution.
I stand with President Trump on the need for a border wall and stronger border security, but the Constitution clearly states that money cannot be spent unless Congress has passed a law to do so. https://t.co/BZLfS3A9Pu
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 14, 2019
Yet Sasse’s and other Never Trump politicians’ admirers will no doubt continue to value publicly blasting the president more than anything else. It makes them feel good. It’s the kind of emotional satisfaction they accuse Trump supporters of indulging in at the expense of losing their ideological souls.
Yet, who is actually principled? And who is just posturing?
There are a few consistent constitutional conservatives in Washington and some of them are even friendly with President Trump. There is at least one who is not as much of a strict constitutionalist as he advertises, which will remain true no matter how much he yells at the president.