Republican senator, hailed as voice of reason, now wants more reporting on ‘paid rioting’

Sen. Sasse is parroting a Trump talking point, but there’s no evidence protesters are being paid.

Sen. Ben Sasse. CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik
Sen. Ben Sasse. CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik

During the campaign, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) emerged as perhaps the most vocal “Never Trump” Republican in Congress. His reputation dates back at least to February, when he published a widely-shared Facebook post explaining why he “can’t support Donald Trump.”

“Have you noticed how Mr. Trump uses the word ‘Reign’ — like he thinks he’s running for King?” Sasse wrote at the time. “It’s creepy, actually. Nebraskans are not looking for a king… A presidential candidate who boasts about what he’ll do during his ‘reign’ and refuses to condemn the KKK cannot lead a conservative movement in America.”

In June — around the time the formation of a “Draft Sasse” political committee fueled rumors he would run against Trump — Sasse told the New York Times he was “never persuaded that [Trump] was trustworthy.” After a video of Trump bragging about groping women was released in October, Sasse called for Trump to “make an honorable move” and step aside so Mike Pence could be atop the Republican ticket.

Sasse’s anti-Trump stance, amid a Republican party that gradually capitulated, earned him a reputation as a voice of reason. But now that Trump is the President-elect, Sasse is striking a very different posture.

On Thursday, Sasse wondered aloud why more reporting isn’t being done about “paid rioting.”

In a subsequent tweet, Sasse acknowledged a distinction between “rioting” and “protesting,” but didn’t question his core premise — that some of the anti-Trump protesters who have taken to the streets throughout the country over the last nine days are indeed being paid to do so, and in some cases being paid to cause violence.

Sasse’s tweets echo Trump’s own take on the protests — that they involve people who are paid to be there, and that somehow the media is complicit.

But there’s a good answer to Sasse’s question — there’s no evidence that anybody is being paid to protest Trump. As the Washington Post broke down earlier this week, the “reporting” that has been on purported links between liberal groups and protesters comes from discredited sources like ZeroHedge, Drudge, and Roger Stone. Undercover videos of liberal activists released last month by Project Veritas Action were selectively edited. Pressed by Politifact, the Trump campaign couldn’t provide any evidence substantiating the claim that protesters were being paid.

As Politifact wrote about the Project Veritas video:

From the start, two things are clear: One, the videos are edited in ways that the context of the conversation or the meaning of the statement isn’t always clear, nor do you know when they took place. Two, Project Veritas’ undercover operatives are often goading their subjects with leading statements. It has the effect of making the viewer infer that the people said something that he or she didn’t literally say.

In short, it appears Sasse has been coopted by Trump. The Republican senator who stood out from the pack by opposing Trump is now parroting Trump’s unsubstantiated talking point — a talking point that delegitimizes the real fears people have about a Trump presidency.


It’s not a promising sign for those who hope Republican senators like Sasse might provide a check on the almost unfettered power Trump will have working with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress.