In the United States, we have had two main political parties (Republican and Democrat) since before the Civil War. There have been third parties on occasion, but these have not been very successful. Political parties are subject to the same challenges that other institutions have: leadership structures that do not encourage change from within. Leaders gather around them “yes men” and “yes women” who say what the leader wants to hear and not what needs to be heard. These people are “enablers” who contribute to the corruption of their institutions from within. This is unhealthy for the institution and for the broader society.
In the current reality of the Republican Party, some leaders who are no longer in office (like former Ohio governor John Kasich and former White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly) have felt free enough to criticize President Trump’s policies and personal behavior. Nevertheless, most officials who are still in office or who are running for reelection have become enablers and have jumped on the president’s bandwagon on every single issue, no matter how absurd. It is accurate to say that Republicans have become the Trump party and have moved away from traditional Republican principles (fiscal conservatism, standing against dictatorships, etc,).
An exception to this trend is Republican senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Earlier this week he criticized President Trump on a phone call with 17,000 of his supporters. He pulled no punches in his use of words. Regarding Trump’s support of dictatorships around the world like Russia, North Korea and others, Sasse says he strongly condemns “the way Trump kisses dictators’ butts. I mean, the way he ignores that the Uyghurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang right now. He hasn’t lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong Kongers,”
Sasse continued his criticism, “The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership. The way he treats women and spends like a drunken sailor. The ways I criticized President Obama for that kind of spending I’ve criticized President Trump for as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity He’s flirted with White supremacists.”
The Nebraska senator explained that he is concerned about the large number of people leaving the Republican Party. “If young people become permanent Democrats because they’ve just been repulsed by the obsessive nature of our politics, or if women who were willing to still vote with the Republican Party in 2016 decide that they need to turn away from this party permanently in the future, the debate is not going to be, you know, ‘Ben Sasse, why were you so mean to Donald Trump?’ It’s going to be ‘What the heck were any of us thinking that selling a TV-obsessed narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?’ It is not a good idea.”
The senator also honed in on the main issue of the election: Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “The reality is that Trump careened from curb to curb. First, he ignored Covid. And then he went into full economic shutdown mode. He was the one who said 10 to 14 days of shutdown would fix this, and that was always wrong, So I don’t think the way he’s led through Covid has been reasonable or responsible or right.”
Senator Sasse is trying to shape the future of a post-Trump Republican Party. Republicans need to decide today what kind of party they want. Who has the better understanding of reality, Donald Trump or Ben Sasse? The future of the Republican Party hangs in the balance.