U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse has carved out a name for himself on the national stage as a leader in the “Never Trump” Republican faction.
On the home front, however, the Nebraska freshman found himself rebuked Saturday by party loyalists upset at his call for a third candidate to arise and give conservatives such as himself an alternative to Donald Trump in the fall election.
Delegates at the State Republican Convention overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing Sasse’s call for a third candidate. They argued it would only help Democrats win the White House in November.
“If you support a third-party candidate, you are going to elect Hillary Clinton, and she is going to nominate the next three or four members of the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Pat McPherson, an Omaha Republican.
The delegates also went one step further in making clear they were lining up behind Trump. They roundly rejected a counterresolution that sought to condemn the presumptive GOP presidential nominee for making “degrading” comments toward women and minorities. (The resolution was submitted by people who opposed the earlier resolution.)
One Republican said it was not their place to be the “thought police” in this presidential election.
Trump claimed more than 60 percent of the GOP vote in Nebraska’s presidential primary Tuesday.
The resolutions came after a daylong convention attended by more than 400 state delegates in Omaha. In addition to the pro- and anti-Trump resolutions, delegates also waded into two national debates, over bathrooms and refugees.
They adopted one resolution calling for a state law that would require a transgender person to use a bathroom that corresponds with the gender on his or her birth certificate. They passed another to oppose the relocation of refugees into America. “I’m a foreigner in my own country,” one man said in support of the resolution.
Finally, the delegates elected 33 of the 36 national delegates that Nebraska will send to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Trump is expected to be crowned the party’s presidential nominee. (The other three delegates are state party officials who are automatically sent to the convention.)
Former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub, Omaha City Councilwoman Aimee Melton and State Auditor Charlie Janssen were among the 33 elected.
Sasse has garnered tons of national attention over the past couple of months because of his staunch opposition to Trump. Most recently it was reported that Sasse was approached by former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney — who also opposes Trump — to run as the third candidate. Sasse reportedly refused the suggestion.
On Saturday, however, Sasse did not want to talk about Trump in the slightest.
Sasse gave a short speech at the convention and referred only briefly and obliquely to the Trump controversy. He confined his speech to talking about the values his daughter learned this spring working on a ranch and his support of the U.S. Constitution.
“I know there are political issues about which we have disagreements in the room. I don’t want to linger on them today, but I want to acknowledge they exist,” Sasse said.
After his speech, he declined to answer any questions about Trump.
“I’m not talking about any of this today, all the small stuff,” Sasse told reporters.
Despite being upset with Sasse over Trump, many delegates in the room said they continued to have deep respect for the Republican. In fact, a majority gave Sasse two standing ovations during his speech, although pockets of delegates pointedly refused to stand and almost everyone got a standing ovation at the convention on Saturday.
“I’m disappointed” with Sasse, said Jill Woodward of the Elkhorn area. “We all grow into our jobs, and I’m certainly not giving up on Sasse by any stretch of the imagination.”
“He should realize he lines up more with Trump than Clinton,” said Jordan Janssen of Lincoln.
The resolution had the potential to make things a little awkward between Sasse and Nebraska’s senior U.S. senator, Deb Fischer. It was introduced by her nephew, Sam Fischer.
Sam Fischer is a longtime Republican political consultant in Omaha who has been around politics as long as, if not longer than, Deb Fischer. He said his aunt had no input into the resolution.
Deb Fischer said she sent Sasse a message on Friday as soon as she learned about the resolution, assuring him she had nothing to do with it. But she made it clear during her speech at the convention that she, too, thought Sasse’s opposition to Trump would only help Clinton.
“I appreciate some are disappointed in how things have shaken out, but the people have spoken, and I respect their decision,” she said to loud applause.
“In our system of government it is the people, not the elites in Washington, not the pollsters or opinion page writers, but rather the people who decide,” she added.
Sam Fischer dismissed the two standing ovations that Sasse received, saying it indicated more the inherent politeness of Nebraskans and the respect they hold for officeholders than support for Sasse.
“The people used to have a warm reception for Chuck Hagel, and then, when he left the room, people would grumble about him,” he said.
Sam Fischer also said he was surprised that Sasse did not want to discuss, in detail, his anti-Trump stance. However, he also said he appreciated Sasse’s statement that people of principle can disagree about whether or not to back Trump in November.
“I appreciate that he respected that people with principles and values disagree with him on the issue, but I was surprised he didn’t address the issue,” he said.
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