The rehabilitation of Ben Sasse is on now that Donald Trump is out of office. After going into witness protection until he won re-election, Sasse burst back onto the scene to do his lecturing schoolmarm routine the last several months. His courage of his conviction is always perfectly timed. That’s bought him a bit of press and discussion about his chances in 2024.
But no, Ben Sasse 2024 is not a thing, and it’s not going to be a thing. Let me explain.
Over the weekend, I engaged with a couple of posters on social media about the differences between Ben Sasse and Ron DeSantis. I won’t post the tweets because I’m not trying to have them set upon, but the gist of the assertion was that DeSantis and Sasse are very much the same, therefore Sasse has a good chance in 2024 once the dust of the post-Trump era settles.
On the surface, that may seem true in some respects. I mean, they are both fairly conservative, right? If you were to list out their policy preferences, you’d probably get a 90% agreement among the two. Yet, a view of politics, especially the politics of a presidential primary, through that lens is completely missing the point of what current GOP voters gravitate to.
Sasse is a do-nothing. He’s also obsessed with projecting his own virtue. That might be passable if he weren’t also obsessed with projecting said virtue by constantly attacking his own party. DeSantis has ushered his state through a pandemic in incredible ways, having a lower death rate than half the country while also having kept a booming economy going. Sasse’s grand accomplishment over the last year has been to put out scolding statements about Trump. That may get the juices flowing of some in the conservative commentariat, but that’s hardly a recipe for enthusing primary voters in 2024.
And that really brings me to the biggest reason Sasse isn’t going to see a surge over the next four years. It’s not his policy positions that bother most people, though there are some things that might. Rather, it’s his Romney-esque insistence on never engaging culturally unless he can 1) attack his own side and 2) not appear impure in his criticisms. DeSantis is willing to engage on cultural grounds. The fighting of lockdowns and mask-wearing he did? That was a cultural battle as much as a political one. Sasse never even managed a comment on the issue, though he could have made one without half the political risk DeSantis took on. Going after Big Tech using existing law? That’s also a cultural battle DeSantis has taken on while Sasse remains silent. Even DeSantis’ willingness to go hard at the media is part of the culture war. Sasse simply doesn’t check that box either, as he’s far too busy trying to keep appearances up while hiding behind carefully worded press releases.
None of that means Sasse isn’t a conservative, but there are lots of conservatives who similarly have no shot in 2024. In short, there are parts of Trump’s influence that aren’t going away. His combative stylings and a willingness to cast a populist appeal are a big part of that. DeSantis checks those boxes in spades, and he does it while producing big results for his voters. Sasse produces no results while spending most of his time preening and writing books. That’s why he’s never going to be a thing, no matter how much some on the right try to make it so.