Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) issued a scathing critique of President Donald Trump, right-wing media, and the influence of the QAnon conspiracy theory among mainstream conservatives in an essay published Saturday in the Atlantic, arguing that the January 6 storming of the US Capitol should be a warning sign that something has gone deeply awry in Republican politics.
“The violence that Americans witnessed—and that might recur in the coming days—is not a protest gone awry or the work of ‘a few bad apples,’” Sasse wrote. “It is the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice.”
Sasse’s blunt criticism of his own party, which extended to GOP leadership in the House as well as incoming pro-Trump freshmen, is reflective of the emerging factioning of the GOP as Trump prepares to leave office. As the new Congress settles in, members of the Republican Party are splitting — and sparring — over whether to embrace Trump’s legacy or repudiate it.
Some Republicans, such as Sasse and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), have made clear they believe breaking with Trump is essential for the party’s survival. But others, like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — who on Sunday addressed Trump directly during an appearance on Fox News, saying, “Your policies will stand the test of time. You’re the most important figure in the Republican Party” — feel the opposite. It’s difficult to predict which faction will emerge as the dominant one, but given recent polling data showing strong levels of Republican support for Trump, calls for a different path may not resonate as strongly as Sasse may hope.
Sasse’s op-ed attempts to articulate why more Republicans should join him, however. He argues that the GOP is at a fork in the road, and must make a choice on whether to continue to allow Trump’s political and intellectual outlooks to shape the party:
When Trump leaves office, my party faces a choice: We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them. We can be the party of Eisenhower, or the party of the conspiracist Alex Jones. We can applaud [Capitol Police] officer [Eugene] Goodman or side with the mob he outwitted. We cannot do both.
Over the course of the piece, Sasse directly condemns a wide range of people and organizations across American conservative life. He calls QAnon-supporting Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene a danger to the stability of the GOP, characterizing her as being “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.” He says that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy failed “failed the leadership test and sat on the sidelines” when he declined to disavow Taylor Greene’s campaign, seeming to prefer her elevation than risking losing her district to a Democrat.
He reserved particularly harsh words for the right-wing media ecosystem in particular, and its role in adding weight to Trump’s false claims that he had actually beaten Biden in the 2020 election:
The conservative swaths of this media landscape were primed for Trump’s “Stop the steal” lie, which lit the fuse for the January 6 riot. For nine weeks, the president consistently lied that he had “won in a landslide.” Despite the fact that his lawyers and allies were laughed out of court more than 60 times, he spread one conspiracy theory after another across television, radio, and the web. For anyone who wanted to hear that Trump won, a machine of grifters was turning clicks into cash by telling their audiences what they wanted to hear. The liars got rich, their marks got angry, and things got out of control.
Overall, Sasse says he believes the problem with his party is that it has failed to find stirring, reality-based narratives for Republicans to organize around, claiming declining…