Ben Sasse: The Next Ted Cruz Or The Next Jack Kemp?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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After winning the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Nebraska last night, Ben Sasse’s strategists promptly released a memo confirming what I had just written in a post titled, Ben Sasse won’t burn down the house.

Here’s an excerpt from that memo:

Conservatives will be thrilled with Ben Sasse as a US Senator if they are looking for a leader who will propose and fight for conservative solutions from a constitutional perspective, but they shouldn’t expect him to adopt an instinctual reaction of ‘no’; nor should they expect that he will go out of his way to annoy establishment GOP leaders. There are certainly times he will take them on as Senator Coburn did a decade ago over earmarks, but he will also choose his battles carefully.

The memo also notes that, in his victory speech, Sasse delivered paid homage to Jack Kemp, quoting him thusly:

“We may not get every vote. But we’ll speak to every heart,” and we will seek to “represent the entire American family.”


“We will aim “not just to win, but to be worthy of winning.”


“For we believe that “in every child we must see the image of God, [the] seed of creativity planted in every one of us.”


“And the “only way to oppose a bad idea[s] is to replace [them] with a good idea[s].

This is all very inspirational and uplifting conservative rhetoric. Having talked with Sasse a couple of times, I’m not surprised one bit.

But I do wonder if this isn’t a bit different than the image many were sold about Sasse — the tea party conservative backed by Senate Conservatives Fund and Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz?

Were they expecting a Jack Kemp disciple?

I’m not suggesting Sasse was intentionally misleading voters. Having spoken to him a couple of times, I’m not surprised by this Ben Sasse. But most folks don’t attend candidate speeches or interview them. What they hear about candidates is often filtered by others — in some cases, by conservative media.

As I noted yesterday, I fully expect Ben Sasse to be a very serious conservative Senator — not a “bomb thrower” or a red-meat hurler. This expectation was at least partly based on my having talked with him.

So I couldn’t be happier with the results. But I do think there is something else that deserves mentioning.

There seems to be a sort of phony game that smart conservative candidates  — those who are willing to do what it takes to win a Republican primary — must at least tacitly agree to play (or permit to be played on their behalf): They have to talk like tea party populists, even if they walk like cosmopolitan conservatives.

As the GOP civil war recedes, it’s only natural conservatives would have to work out the rough edges and determine what are the acceptable cleavages between good rhetoric and good governance. The problem, of course, is that it’s increasingly hard to distinguish between someone who is poised to be the next Marco Rubio and someone who is going to be the next Sharron Angle.

Disraeli once described a sound Conservative government as “Tory men and Whig measures.” I suppose there’s an analog about successful modern conservative campaigns in there, as well…