Former President Donald J. Trump is one of the most controversial public figures in American history. There are millions who love him, millions who hate him, and millions who both love and hate him; depending on the day. The man is a lightning rod for contentiousness.
While certain, anti-Trump Republicans have been vocal from the onset of Trump’s political career (the so-called ‘Never Trumpers’), political attacks on the former president from fellow, influential Republicans since the Capitol Riot on January 6th have increased dramatically. Accordingly, many staunch, pro-Trump Republicans have reacted with equal intensity as they confront those Trump critics. With our continuing, turbulent political environment, it’s worthwhile to pause and consider an important question: is it acceptable for conservatives and fellow Republicans to be so strongly opposed to Donald Trump and his actions?
The two most high-level Republican Trump critics in the spotlight recently are undoubtedly Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). Cheney, the daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney and number three among GOP leaders in the House of Representatives, was one of only ten Republican House members to vote in favor of impeaching President Trump for an unprecedented second time last month.
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As a result of Cheney’s impeachment vote, she was censured by the Wyoming GOP. In spite of that censure, Cheney received a strong vote of confidence last week when she retained her House leadership position after a secret ballot vote. The fact that the Republican caucus was compelled to make the voting secret amplifies the need for all of us on the right to examine our current situation. Cheney was approved overwhelmingly to continue in the number three spot by a vote of 145-61. We are forced to wonder, therefore, what the vote totals would have been if the ballot were not secret. Would Representatives have changed their votes due simply to fear of backlash from Trump supporters in their districts?
Ben Sasse has already been censured once by Republicans in his home state of Nebraska for opposing Trump in 2016. He is also facing a potential second censure for more recent anti-Trump positions, including his vote last month in the Senate in favor of the constitutionality of Trump’s second impeachment; one of only five Republican Senators to do so. Additionally, Sasse on Saturday voted to convict during a vote on the second impeachment of Trump; one of seven Republicans to do so.
It’s difficult to support the positions either Cheney or Sasse have taken in their opposition to Trump. In the case of Cheney, voting in favor of an article of impeachment for “incitement of insurrection” is tough to defend when during the president’s January 6th speech just prior to the riot, he clearly urged them to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” Regarding Sasse, he has opposed Trump on scores of issues and openly admitted to having not voted for Trump. Any vote that was not cast for Trump in 2016 or 2020 was essentially a vote for either Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, and if we assess such votes by a sitting Republican Senator with pop culture’s vernacular, we must conclude: that’s messed up.
However, when evaluating the positions taken by Sen. Sasse and Rep. Cheney – or when evaluating the positions taken by President Trump, for that matter – we must bear in mind our true objective. We must keep our eyes on the ball.
A fundamental tenet of conservatism is to embrace the idea of American Exceptionalism. The United States is the greatest country that has ever existed, and as Americans we should all strive to preserve, continue, and advance that greatness. That principle is the foundation upon which all other American conservative ideals are built.
Therefore, if our goal is to conserve this great democracy of ours and to guard it against those who would do it harm, we must decide: Who poses the more serious threat to American greatness and our way of life? Is it Republicans like Ben Sasse and Liz Cheney who have made statements and taken positions that irk us by opposing Trump, and conflict with certain opinions of ours? Or is it the radically leftist Democratic Party that wants to fundamentally change American society, utterly reconfigure our economic system, and drive wedges between all American subgroups with identity politics?
Cheney and Sasse have defended their positions on Trump with similar arguments: they voted their consciences. In a recent video made by Sasse to address Nebraska Republicans considering his latest censure, he explained, “Politics isn’t about the weird worship of one dude,” and declared in December that he felt Trump’s actions challenging November’s election results were “playing with fire.” Cheney defended her vote for impeachment by stating, “The oath that I took to the Constitution compelled me to vote for impeachment, and it doesn’t bend to partisanship.”
Again, we can debate the prudence of the positions by both Sasse and Cheney, and we can strongly disagree with their reasoning. But both were duly elected by their constituents and they clearly gave their decisions a lot of thought. And we should also take into account the extensive records of Sasse and Cheney.
Ben Sasse has degrees from both Harvard and Yale, previously served in President George W. Bush’s administration, and was elected to the Senate in 2014 at the age of 42. More importantly, Sen. Ben Sasse is a reliable conservative. Sasse strongly opposed Obama Care, is vociferously Pro-Life, and has received the highest rating available by the NRA for his voting record on Gun Rights.
Similarly, Liz Cheney has an impressive education with an undergraduate degree from Colorado College and a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the University of Chicago. Cheney also served in the Bush Administration, along with her father, and has risen quickly in Republican ranks in the House since arriving four years ago. Cheney has also been dependably conservative with consistent support of Israel, resilient opposition to radical environmental activists, and a strong condemnation of the Russia Hoax and the FBI actions that facilitated it.
Cheney and Sasse were wrong to take the stances they did, and it’s OK for us to criticize them. But it’s also OK for them and us to criticize Donald Trump. The policies and achievements of the Trump administration are undeniably successful. Trump’s presidency was immensely effective, but he wasn’t perfect.
One of the actions by President Trump that is most worthy of criticism may very well have happened in the waning days of his presidency, and it had nothing to do with the Capitol Riot. On January 19th, Trump’s last full day in office, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump was exploring the possibility of starting a new political party, and calling it the Patriot Party. If this idea were to actually materialize, and if Trump were to indeed begin operations of such a party, the results would be disastrous. Such a move would only siphon votes from Republican candidates, thereby increasing the foothold Democrats currently have on power in Washington; with all of it happening during an extremely fragile political period. This is not the time for a new party, this is the time for Republicans to circle the wagons.
The conservative movement isn’t about Donald Trump, and it isn’t about Ben Sasse and Liz Cheney either. Being conservative is about values, and our friends on the left want nothing more than to see us divided and fighting between ourselves. Conservatives and leftists are very different, and we need to act that way. Cancel culture is a cancer, and we must reject it. For conservatives, cancelling a fellow Republican with whom we disagree needs to happen at the ballot box. You don’t like Ben Sasse and Liz Cheney? Defeat them in the primaries the next time they run, but make sure the candidate that succeeds them is capable of beating the Democrat in the general election.
Trying to drown out the voices of dissenting conservative voices will not help the conservative cause. Democrats like to claim they have a “big tent,” one that is tolerant of a variety of views. That claim is a lie, of course, and Republicans need to show them how it’s done.
We need conservatives like Sasse and Cheney. We may not need some of their ill-advised positions and antagonism, but we need them nonetheless. We need enough Republicans to defeat the Democrats and get this country back on track. We should feel free to disagree with each other, and we should be passionate as we debate issues and try to persuade those who differ with us to change their minds. But we absolutely must not forget the objective which is most important: leftist Democrats must be defeated. And we can only realize that goal by ensuring they are in the minority in Congress and are voted out of the White House.
P.F. Whalen is a conservative blogger at TheBlueStateConservative.com. His work has appeared in multiple publications, including the Western Journal, Human Events, and American Thinker. Follow him on Parler @PFWhalen and on Gab @PFWhalen.