Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, the freshman Republican who has pledged not to vote for Donald Trump for president even if the brash millionaire earns the GOP’s nomination, appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference today and urged the crowd to put conservative principles before allegiance to the Republican Party.
Without ever mentioning Trump by name, Sasse said that the country is in a time of “Constitutional crisis” in which voters need to look to the good of the country and the preservation of a limited government for future generations.
“The top concern of all Americans should always be that the American ideal is held first and foremost,” he said.
“I want you to be a conservative and a Republican,” he said. However, he added, “Those things must be listed second to being an American. Conservatism is a set of policy principles and policy preferences. Republicanism is about an organization. It’s about a political party. I love both of these things…but you have to rank your Americanism first, and then your conservatism second, and only your Republicanism third, because your Conservatism is a set of policy preferences, and they matter.”
Coming from a man who had publicly promised to break with his party and cast his own vote for a “constitutionalist” if Trump is nominated, it wasn’t hard to grasp what Sasse was suggesting: that true conservatives should shun Trump even if he gains the imprimatur of the Party.
Claiming he was “not here to talk about any of the presidential candidates,” Sasse nonetheless said he hoped attendees would look for a candidate that would help future generations understand what he called the “American idea” and that believe in limited government, equality under the law, and inclusiveness.
“Someone you would want to sit at the dinner table with your children,” he said. “Do you hear a champion not of tearing more things down, but of building American back up? Because I am anti-establishment, but what we need most of all is not just someone who wants to breathe fire on Washington, but someone who will breathe passion into our children for a Constitutional recovery.”
“Because, he said, ending on Trump’s own tagline, “that’s how we will actually make America great again.”
But outside the convention hall, it was clear that for voters in the Republican primaries, things are not quite so cut and dried. Paul Sutliff, a teacher from Rochester, New York described himself as a conservative with strong concerns about national security. He said he has been frustrated in the past by what he described as the efforts of the party elites to let a “real conservative” get the Republican presidential nomination.
His candidate? Donald Trump.
“As far as national security, our best candidate at this point is Trump,” Sutliff said. “I’m not an avid Trump supporter. I don’t consider him a conservative. Government’s first job is to protect its people. He’s not a conservative at all, but on national security at this point, he’s the only one who understands the game.”