A Tale of Two Senators

This afternoon, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) announced that he will be retiring at the end of his term in January 2019. Flake used his retirement speech to criticize President Trump and his demeanor. Speaking of blind praise for the President, Flake said, “When we succumb to [political] considerations…we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations.”

I can certainly sympathize with some of Flake’s criticisms of the President. I do believe that conservatism has become somewhat like a Trump cult. However, Flake dishonored his principles and forsook his obligations long before Donald Trump arrived on the scene. His recent book, The Conscience of a Conservative (named after Barry Goldwater’s book), ought to be called Numbing the Conscience of a Conservative.

Flake first ran for the U.S. House on a pledge to serve only three terms. To make a long story short, he ended up serving six terms as a Congressman before his election to the Senate in 2012. So much for a conscience. As a Senator, his voting record went downhill rapidly. During his U.S. House tenure, Flake upheld a 98% rating with the American Conservative Union (a loose rating system); as a Senator, his average score is 80%. The junior Senator from Arizona also helped create the Gang of Eight amnesty bill in 2013.

The way I see it, Flake’s biggest issue has nothing to do with whether or not he is critical of the President. It has everything to do with the betrayal of his promises. However, conservative commentator Sean Hannity equates Flake to Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), whom Sean regrets endorsing in 2014.

It is absolutely ridiculous to compare the two. Yes, both have been critical of Trump and his methods. Yes, both are freshman U.S. Senators. But in regard to the keeping of promises, there is a world of difference between Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake.

Let’s start with the overview. Ben Sasse has maintained a 94% Liberty Score from Conservative Review. Jeff Flake’s Liberty Score is 53%. While Heritage Action rates Sasse at 94%, they give Flake a 67%.

On specific issues, Sasse has stood his ground when Flake has faltered.

Flake voted to confirm Loretta Lynch as Attorney General; Ben Sasse voted against.

Flake voted against the First Amendment Defense Act, but Sasse voted for it.

Senator Flake voted to bail out Puerto Rico in 2016; Senator Sasse voted no.

In 2015, Jeff Flake followed his “Conservative Conscience” and voted to continue funding the murderous organization, even after it was exposed selling body parts from aborted babies. Ben Sasse voted, you guessed it, no.

And the contrast does not stop there. As we already stated, both Sasse and Flake have been critical of Donald Trump. During the 2016 primaries, when the race was down to three candidates, neither of them would vote for Trump. The other two candidates were Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich. Senator Sasse stated confidently that he voted for Ted Cruz. Senator Flake voted for the moderate establishment candidate—John Kasich—over the conservative Cruz.

But Sasse’s record of conservative promise-keeping doesn’t matter to Sean Hannity. You see, to Sean, praising Trump vociferously is all that matters. He has called for Ben Sasse to be ousted just as much as Collins, Murkowski, McCain, Cornyn, and others who have betrayed conservatives time and time again. He asked this “Never-Trumper” list: “What are the conservative values that the President is advocating for that you’re unwilling to support?” In Sasse’s case, the answer is none.

Ben Sasse has stood repeatedly for conservative principle, whether with Trump or not. He has helped fight for a conservative judiciary. He has done his best to confirm Trump’s conservative nominees. He has voted for conservative reforms to limit government. He has sponsored pro-life bills to restrict abortions.

There are only three major areas where Sasse has been critical of President Trump: his demeanor, his inconsistency on certain issues, and his general stance for trade protectionism. I know some conservatives who agree with President Trump’s trade vision, but I believe that Sasse is right: free trade hurts only those who need government favors.

Sean Hannity has repeatedly blasted Sasse (among the others) on breaking promises and getting nothing done. But has Sasse broken promises? In general, no. He never made a promise to praise President Trump incessantly. He never promised to follow a President’s inconsistencies blindly. He never promised to fight for restrictions on free trade.

Sean Hannity and others need to stop lumping Ben Sasse in with the likes of Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Sasse has fought hard for conservatism, even when his caucus has not. Ben Sasse has upheld the Conscience of a Conservative, even when Jeff Flake has not. Senator Sasse has stood firm, even when Jeff Flake and other Senate Republicans dishonored their principles and forsook their obligations.

This is a tale of two U.S. Senators. Jeff Flake betrayed conservatism and his promises long before he “betrayed Trump.” Ben Sasse has followed his conservative promises, which has sometimes led him to criticize (“betray”) Trump. In my book, Sasse is worlds better than Flake. But, Sean, when Trump is all that matters, then what difference, at this point, does it make?

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