The media struggles to define Ben Sasse

The media struggles to define Ben Sasse


The following editorials appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star.

Ben Sasse jumped to the national stage with a cover story in the National Review in January.

With the photo was the headline “OBAMACARE’S NEBRASKA NEMESIS: Rising conservative star Ben Sasse.”

The national spotlight is getting brighter in the wake of Sasse’s big win in the Tuesday primary, which most analysts are presuming will put him in the U.S. Senate in November. (Sasse faces Democratic challenger Dave Domina, but Sasse enjoys a 200,000-plus advantage in Republican voter registration.)

Comment on Sasse’s victory came from as diverse an assortment of news outlets as The Atlantic, Slate, Politico, The Weekly Standard and the Washington Post.

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball described Sasse as a “fusion candidate” who can unite the party establishment and base.

The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne wrote that the Nebraska primary was not a fight "between ‘the grass roots’ and ‘the establishment,’ but between two establishment factions spending vast sums to gain the upper hand.”

He concluded, “The machinations of the big money groups headquartered in the nation’s capital … resembles nothing so much as a 'Game of Thrones' power struggle.”

A headline on an analytical column a few hours before Sasse’s primary triumph by Slate’s David Weigel asked the question: "Is Nebraska About to Create the Next Ted Cruz?”

A common denominator in the commentary and coverage is a tone of uncertainty as to how to characterize Sasse, a product of Fremont High School, Harvard, Oxford and Yale.

An article by Thomas Beaumont of The Associated Press in the Journal Star opined that tea party groups had figured out the riddle of winning elections: “Claim a Republican as a member of the tribe, even if his approach to politics doesn’t line up exactly with their own.”

Sasse injected more ambiguity with a post-election call to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pledging his support, according to reporter Jeff Zeleny of ABC News. McConnell is no favorite of tea party groups.

Circulating among political wonks after the election was a memo from Sasse advisors John Yob and Jordan Gehrke that lays out in fascinating detail some of the strategy used to propel Sasse from an unknown with only 3 percent name recognition to a decisive winner.

The memo takes issue with the media narrative of the race as a “civil war” between the establishment and constitutional conservatives. “As a metaphor it should be much closer to the end of the Cold War than the battle of Gettysburg,” the pair wrote.

The national spotlight will probably stay on Sasse for some time. The question of what sort of senator Sasse might be is hugely important as Republicans plot to retake control of the Senate this fall.


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