Republicans and Farmers Plot Primary Challenge To Ben Sasse

Senator Ben Sasse, Facebook

Multiple Nebraska Republican insiders confirmed to Big League Politics that Senator Ben Sasse’s standing has taken a big hit in recent months, especially with the rural agricultural base that supports President Trump. Sasse’s courting of the mainstream media and constant attacks on Trump are wearing thin with Republicans. Farmers think he’s abandoned their interests in preparation for a presidential run. Active discussions are taking place to find a primary challenger to run against Sasse when he comes up for re-election in 2020.

Sasse recently visited Iowa, where he drove Uber as part of a college football-themed bet with IJR editor Benny Johnson and sparked a flurry of Fake News speculation that he could be seeking to steal the Republican nomination away from Trump in 2020 (Sasse was the feature image in Reihan Salam’s June Slate piece urging Republicans to get ready for a 2020 primary). But Sasse is also up for re-election in the Cornhusker State that year, and the Midwest is souring on him. A strong primary challenger back home can derail Sasse’s ability to leave the state and campaign for president elsewhere.

“He crosses the Missouri River, and in that sanctimonious tone talks about what he doesn’t like about Donald Trump,” Iowa GOP chairman Jeff Kaufman complained. “You know what Sen. Sasse, I really don’t care what you like, we love Donald Trump! And if you don’t love him, I’d suggest you stay on your side of the Missouri River.”


Anti-Sasse and anti-elitist sentiment can be felt acutely in Nebraska, where a growing agricultural crisis is kicking dirt in Sasse’s face.

“There is a real disconnect between the party and Ben Sasse,” Mike Kennedy, president of the state’s third-largest school board and a 25-year active Nebraska Republican, told Big League Politics.

“One of the biggest mistakes he made to make him vulnerable to a challenger is giving up his [Agriculture Committee] seat and being less than honest about why he left,” Kennedy said, noting that Chuck Grassley serves on both the Judiciary Committee and Agriculture. “Sasse just wants to get on the Sunday talk shows, and the Ag Committee doesn’t get you on the Sunday talk shows. The farmers and ranchers I talk to say they just can’t believe he gave that up.”

“He has no problem promoting his book…He got rid of one of the most important seats to Nebraskans. That Ag seat which was held for 50 years? It’s just unconscionable,” Kennedy said. “People on Facebook and blogs are now criticizing him openly. I wish he’d put half the energy into representing our interests than to writing his book. He lectures us on the Constitution? I’m a lawyer. I didn’t go to an Ivy League school but I went to a good Jesuit law school here…The social media here blew up after he was basically backing NBC and CNN on the Trump deal. I don’t necessarily approve of the way the president handles some of his tweets but if somebody punches you in the mouth, nobody here in Nebraska thinks the president should just have to take it. There’s a lot of people here who believe that Ben is just all about Ben.”

The current U.S. farm bill ends in 2018 and now Nebraskans will not have a voice on the committee tasked with crafting a new one.

“With the importance that ag plays in the Nebraska economy, it’s unfortunate,” Steve Ebke of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association said.

The Omaha World-Herald, not exactly a bastion of the Right, slammed Sasse in an editorial for his abandonment of the Ag seat.

“A senator has an obligation to understand the primary needs of his state and work energetically in Washington to promote them,” the World-Herald wrote. “Sasse is keeping his seat on the Banking Committee and moving to the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees. With Republicans in the majority in the Senate, the judicial nominees from the incoming Trump administration will face far fewer obstacles than had Democrats gained control in the 2016 elections.”

“At a time of major stress on the ag economy and with Congress beginning its development of the next farm bill, Nebraska deserves to have representation on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Sasse has yet to provide a convincing explanation for why he has decided to abandon service on a committee with such major impact on Nebraska,” the World-Herald wrote.

The Nebraska blogs are eating Sasse alive.

“Some who have/had hope in Sasse, note that the guy who was supposed to be the “Obamacare Nemesis” has been anything but. One expected that he would be leading the charge, throwing around proposals, arguing the finer points of health care and insurance on FOX and MSNBC in back-to-back appearances,” the influential blog Leavenworth St., billed as “the talk of Nebraska politics,” recently wrote.

“Instead, his boldest proposal has been, “Let’s do this…later!” Which was all between book-tour appearances,” the blog continued.

“Ben Sasse is not a farm boy,” Phil Brown wrote for Medium, mocking Sasse’s heartland-centric campaign ads. “It’s what he implies when he claims to have “grown up working in the fields,” but the reality behind that is much less romantic. Sasse just had a summer job detasselling, which he commuted to from his home in town. (Ironically, Sasse’s Democrat opponent actually was a farm boy: Dave Domina grew up feeding cows and hogs in Coleridge) It’s the commute that would become the defining characteristic of Sasse’s career, not the field-work.

“Sasse went to Harvard as an undergraduate, an experience he fawningly describes as a “disappointment” second to attending Nebraska-Lincoln, straight-facedly name-dropping Husker legend Tom Osborne in another campaign ad as ‘T.O.,'” Brown added.

“Ben Sasse is not a farm boy. He’s the very definition of an élite: Harvard and Yale-educated, jet-setting Washington political staffer and consultant, and unscrupulous tufthunter. He pulled the wool over the eyes of Nebraskan farmers in 2014. It won’t be so easy the next time around,” Brown concluded.

Sasse already angered fellow Nebraska Republicans when he battled against Trump in the 2016 election, even after Trump became the Republican nominee (thus, effectively supporting Hillary Clinton).

When Sasse came out in favor of the Bill Kristol-led NeverTrump plot to field a third-party challenger to Trump and Clinton, the Nebraska Republican Party formally reprimanded Sasse with a 400 to 8 vote.

Ben Sasse’s office did not take the opportunity to respond to Sasse’s constituents’ concerns in this report.

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