The senator from Nebraska accused Trump of botching the COVID-19 pandemic response, kissing up to dictators, flirting with white supremacists, spending “like a drunken sailor,” selling out U.S. allies and setting up a “Republican bloodbath” in the next election.
Sasse delivered a blistering nine-minute appraisal of Trump on Wednesday, during a telephone town hall with thousands of constituents in Nebraska. His office has confirmed the remarks made on the call, which were first leaked to the Washington Examiner.
“We are staring down the barrel of a blue tsunami,” Sasse said, while voicing fears that Democrats may gain control of the Senate after Nov. 3. “I’m worried that if President Trump loses, which looks likely, that he’s going to take the Senate down with him.”
The tirade started after Sasse was asked about his relationship with Trump.
“Why do you have to criticize him so much?” a constituent asked on the call.
Sasse said he agrees with Trump on several matters of policy, but he has a lot of issues with the president’s values. Sasse then rattled off a long list of his problems with Trump, including the president’s failure to protect Hong Kong and the Uighurs from China, his treatment of women and his refusal to condemn white supremacists groups.
“The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership,” Sasse said. “He mocks Evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists.”
Sasse accused Trump of treating the coronavirus pandemic like a “news cycle PR crisis” instead of a multi-year public health challenge. However, he also criticized media coverage for allegedly trying to pin the pandemic on Trump alone.
“I think he’s done some stuff well and some poorly, and I’ve been honest about that,” he said. He acknowledged that Trump has made several classically Republican policy moves, such as appointing many conservative judges. He added that he has worked hard to have a good working relationship with the president, despite their differences.
However, he said Republicans may come to regret supporting Trump in the long term, especially if they lose a generation of young people and women to the Democratic Party.
“It’s going to be, what the heck were any of us thinking that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?” he said. “It is not a good idea.”
He also raised concerns that a Democrat-run Senate would add new states, eliminate the filibuster and pack the Supreme Court “Venezuela style.”
Trump has repeatedly praised the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and groused about his G7 allies, including Canada. He has also played down the threat of COVID-19, avoided condemning the far-right Proud Boys, allegedly supported China detention of Uighurs and plunged the country deeper into debt.
Sasse has criticized Trump in the past, but he toned down his rhetoric ahead of the Nebraska primary earlier this year. Trump endorsed Sasse for that primary.
Many Republicans who once criticized Trump, including senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, have become some of his most staunch defenders.
However, the GOP’s so-called “never Trump” movement has come roaring back ahead of the 2020 election, with groups like the Lincoln Project launching all-out social media attacks aimed at bringing down the president.
Sasse is not part of the Lincoln Project, although he did cite Abraham Lincoln as an ideal that the Republican Party should aspire to.
Two other Nebraska Republicans, U.S. Rep. Dan Bacon and state GOP executive director Ryan Hamilton, told the Omaha World-Herald that they disagree with Sasse’s characterizations of the president.
“Senator Sasse is entitled to his own opinion,” U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, another Nebraska Republican, said in a statement. “I appreciate what President Trump has accomplished for our country and will continue to work with him on efforts which help Nebraska.”
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh declined to comment on Sasse’s words, according to the World-Herald.
Sasse has stepped up the sass in recent months as he appears poised to cruise to another election victory.
“I’m not at all apologetic for having fought for my values against his in places where I think his are deficient, not just for a Republican but for an American,” he said.
He added that he and his family pray for Trump “at the breakfast table in our house.”
— With files from The Associated Press