A few months ago I wrote a piece which correctly pointed out that no prominent Nebraska Republicans were willing to denounce or otherwise stand up to Donald Trump’s racism and xenophobia. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that it was just a matter of time until Donald Trump imploded and he dropped out of the race.
As it has turned out, Trump has won twelve primaries and is the runaway GOP front runner for the Presidency. Only Ted Cruz stands between Trump and the GOP nomination. What we have on the GOP side this year is the spectacle of the most disliked man in America competing for the nomination against the most hated member of Congress.
The GOP establishment has become deeply alarmed at this state of affairs in their party. Since Trump has emerged as the odds on favorite to win the nomination, the GOP establishment has begun to spend millions of dollars in negative ads attacking the reality show star. Moreover, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney gave a speech denouncing Trump as a “phony” and a “fraud.” (What Romney didn’t mention was that in 2012, he was delighted to have Trump’s endorsement.)
This growing sense of panic among the establishment GOP has recently found it’s way to Nebraska. Freshman Senator Ben Sasse was one of the first Republican members of Congress to declare that he won’t support Trump if he is the GOP nominee this fall. Sasse criticized Trump for not being a true conservative and for playing “race baiting games.” Sasse went so far as to say that he would potentially support a third party candidate if Trump should win the GOP nomination.
In response to Sasse’s threat to walk away from the GOP in the general election, an online group emerged aiming to draft Nebraska’s junior Senator to make the third party bid against Trump. Sasse quickly stated he had no intention of running for President this year. However, Sasse has campaigned for other GOP Presidential candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier this year. There is speculation that Sasse may be setting himself up to run for President in 2020.
Sasse was joined in his opposition to Trump by former Governor Kay Orr. In an op-ed piece, Orr correctly pointed out that: “Donald Trump has repeatedly boasted about his infidelity. He has repeatedly disparaged numerous Americans for their looks, and he recently mocked a journalist with a disability. This vile behavior is unbecoming of any president — regardless of party affiliation.” Orr went on to contend that Trump isn’t a real conservative and that he lacks the requisite character to serve as President.
Orr’s decision to ditch Trump is a big deal for Nebraska Republicans. The former Governor is highly respected in the Nebraska GOP and is revered as an elder stateswoman. In 2014, Orr hit the trifecta in the GOP primary cycle when she endorsed Ben Sasse, Pete Ricketts and Doug Peterson.
I fully expect other Republicans both in Nebraska and outside of our state to dump Trump if he should be the nominee. The prominent Republicans who are refusing to support Trump aren’t acting out of any sense of principle. Instead, they can see that Trump isn’t electable and has the potential to cost the GOP the White House and the U.S. Senate. If Trump was leading Clinton and Sanders in the polls, Republicans would swallow their doubts about him and support him full stop.
This deep split in the GOP portends well for our eventual Presidential nominee. Parties that have deep divisions rarely win Presidential general elections. This current cycle reminds me of 1964 when Barry Goldwater was routed by LBJ. In 1964, Goldwater ran as an extremist and lost the support of many prominent moderate Republicans like then New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
I’m feeling increasingly confident that the Democratic Party will have a successful cycle both here in Nebraska and nationally. Nevertheless, we can take nothing for granted. The prospect of a Trump Presidency and a GOP controlled Congress is frightening. Despite Trump’s differences on some issues with many in his party, he still supports a huge deficit financed tax cut for the wealthy and sending U.S. ground troops to Iraq and Syria. We must do everything in our power to elect a Democrat the 45th President of the U.S.
I want to use this space to thank everybody who participated in our recent Presidential caucuses. It was a huge success. Both Clinton and Sanders had paid staff in Nebraska for the last several weeks. We also received campaign stops from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton. It is a great time to be a Nebraska Democrat!