Ben Sasse on the Vacuum of Political Leadership | Conversations with Tyler

COWEN: Just to be clear, what’s going to
follow is not in any way a question about President Trump. But Trump —
SASSE: Good. Thank you. [laughter]
COWEN: Trump is a kind of data, right? So he is not, in every way, a traditional religious
conservative it would be fair to say. SASSE: Really?
[laughter] COWEN: And given that the Republican party
elected Trump as their candidate, and he then has become president, what should this cause
us to rethink about the role of religion in the rise of the right over the last 20 to
30 years? Does that new data in any way revise previous theses about whether it’s Reaganomics
or religion or counterreaction to the 1960s or — do you see what I’m asking?
SASSE: Not really. [laughter]
SASSE: A bit. I don’t know that there’s any way we could do justice to a question
that big in under a couple of hours but maybe just a few big glosses. I think that both
of these political parties are almost completely intellectually exhausted. I don’t think
either party can articulate a vision for America that’s five or ten years future-looking
right now. So when you ask the American people, “Do
you identify more with the Republican Party or the Democratic Party?” and if you don’t
give them the option to say “none of the above,” 46 percent of people still interrupt
to say “none of the above.” That’s stunning. Basically there are 29 percent Democrat-leaning,
25 percent Republican leaning, and 46 percent refuse to answer your question. If you’re
of the party of Lincoln as I am, that’s really scary because our 25 percent are lots
and lots older than the Democrats’ 29 percent. Then when you drill down on the 54 percent
who are willing to answer, and you say, “Why are you a Republican? Why are you a Democrat?”
Something like 70 percent of the people begin by talking about why the other party is so
much worse than your party. So these parties don’t know what they stand for, and they
surely can’t communicate it, and they definitely can’t communicate it in a constructive,
positive, winsome way. That’s the starting point for the election
cycle of 2016. So both parties were ripe for a hostile takeover. And if you think about
17 candidates in the Republican primary, you went a long way into that cycle before the
now-president’s numbers ever got anywhere near 40 percent. And at that same point, Bernie
Sanders was getting 45 percent of the Democratic vote and he’s not a Democrat. Right?
So both parties were very ripe for hostile takeover. Then you have to understand some
of what happened in the 2016 cycle on the Republican side as partly legacy of a 2012
moment where Mitt Romney had difficulty closing the deal because of the way Ron Paul was able
to stick around. So the party changed a bunch of the rules so there would be easier consolidation.
Why do I say all that? I say that because you have to understand the 2016 primary as
one thing on the Republican side, and the Republican Party is too vacuous of what we
stand for right now. So it was ripe for a hostile takeover. That happened, and then
you ended up with what was perceived as a binary choice for a lot of voters between
two candidates that were not viewed as very trustworthy. So you end up with a general
election choice that is not a big-vision choice. I don’t know how you would go the next level
down and talk in great detail about what the religious components were to a political ideology
because I don’t think we made a choice about ideology in the 2016 cycle. We sort of made
a choice that was about a lot of folks saying, “Burn the place down and let’s just see
what happens because I don’t like the direction we’re headed now.”

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