The Departure That Speaks Volumes

One of the most respected Republicans, whose political future was assured for a long time, would rather leave his job than have to deal with Trumpists.

The U.S. media ignited earlier in the month, and rightly so, following new allegations about the Republican Senate candidate in Georgia, Herschel Walker. The former star football player, already plagued by a litany of scandals, including accusations of holding a gun to his ex-wife’s head, had to defend himself for having allegedly personally paid for the abortion of a former girlfriend as he actively campaigns for a total ban on the medical procedure, including in cases of rape and incest.

With Walker, Georgia has become the epicenter of American politics this fall. Indeed, this race could determine which party will control the Senate.

But apart from the potential arrival of Walker to the Senate, no one is talking about a highly probable and significant departure: that of Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse. The University of Florida has announced its intention to appoint him president of the institution. Though the selection process has not been finalized yet, the stars are aligning in that direction.

And if this is the case, the implications will be major.

A Safe Seat

In his classic work on Congress, political scientist David Mayhew explained that the professional objective of nearly every elected official is the same: to be reelected. It is rare that members leave Congress voluntarily, unless their defeat is assured in an upcoming election.

Even more rare are those who leave before the midpoint of their term, and moreover when they are guaranteed easy reelection for life, or nearly. This is the case with Sasse.

Sasse represents a state that, since World War II, has only voted for a Democrat for president once, and that was Lyndon Johnson more than half a century ago.

As a first-time candidate in 2014, Sasse was elected with 64% of the vote. Facing voters again in 2020, he saw his numbers diminish to … 63%. Nearly 40 points separated him from his main Democratic rival.

At 50, Sasse is 15 years younger than the average age of his Senate colleagues. In other words, if he had wanted a long career in the Senate, the door was wide open.

Many senators would pay top dollar to be in Sasse’s position. Literally. Some of the tightest Senate races, such as in Georgia, will see spending upwards of $100 million for each candidate.

Despite all this, Sasse, whose Senate seat is not in play until 2026, would rather give it up to go run a university. Why is this?

A Species on the Brink of Extinction

The big test of the 2022 Republican primaries was to assess the hold that Donald Trump still exerts on the party more than two years after leaving the White House.

The answer, today, is clear: It is powerful. Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Capitol insurrection, only two will remain in Congress, after barely surviving Trumpist candidates during the primaries.

In the Senate, Sasse was one of seven Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment. With his departure, there would be four at the most in the next Congress.

The 45th president accuses those elected officials from the party who are critical of him of being “fake” Republicans. The great irony of this is that, in Sasse’s case, no one could be more Republican at heart than the senator from Nebraska. According to data from FiveThirtyEight, Sasse voted for Trump proposals nearly 90% of the time. And when he deviated from this pattern, it was because he supported a position still more conservative than Trump’s. For example, he opposed a justice system reform proposal that financed rehabilitation programs, as well as the first round of COVID-19-related financial assistance in the spring of 2020.

Ultimately, Sasse’s problem is fundamentally the same one faced by Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and the handful of other highly placed Republicans in Washington who dared defy Trump head-on.

A man who dares to think for himself and act on principle has little room on the team. It is a team on which Walker could find his place.

About this publication

About Reg Moss 118 Articles
Reg is a writer, teacher, and translator with an interest in social issues especially as pertains to education and matters of race, class, gender, immigration, etc.

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