Conservatives are conservatives in part because they understand that the rule of law and adherence to principle matter more than political expediency.
On Thursday, we saw that the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate is less conservative than we had hoped.
Most Republican senators — including, most notably, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, Texas’ Ted Cruz, and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis — voted against a resolution to overturn Trump’s emergency declaration to fund his border wall with money Congress had appropriated for other purposes.
Forty-one Republicans voted with Trump and thus against the proper separation of powers. But we single out Sasse, Cruz, and Tillis because they know better.
“It is my responsibility to be a steward of the Article I branch,” Tillis said on Feb. 25, “to preserve the separation of powers and to curb the kind of executive overreach that Congress has allowed to fester for the better part of the past century.”
Following those comments, North Carolina Republican operatives began agitating for a primary challenge to Tillis, citing his repeated stands against Trump. So, Tillis on Thursday stopped standing.
Sasse has been very demonstrative in his resistance to Trump since 2016 — so much so that some vociferously anti-Trump conservatives had hoped he would challenge Trump in 2016 or in the 2020 primary. Most of Sasse’s critiques of Trump have been true, important, and eloquent. But unlike other conservatives who dislike Trump’s comportment and rhetoric and who disagree with him on many policies, a U.S. senator has a vote with which to check the president. And on Thursday, Sasse, also up for re-election in 2020 in a very Trump-friendly state, made it clear he would limit himself to symbolic and rhetorical resistance to Trump’s excesses and defense of the Constitution. (He’ll do so eloquently, we’re sure.)
And then, there’s Cruz. He came to town as a tireless and fearless anti-establishment fighter and constitutional conservative. He shut down the government in 2013 to show his dedication to opposing Obamacare and to expose the rest of his party’s hypocrisy on the issue.
But the Trump era has shown us a different Cruz: a man who is extraordinary in his manner but less so in his motivations. Cruz understood that Trump saw this vote as a loyalty test, and he wasn’t about to get himself on the wrong side of power.
The 41 GOP votes against the resolution do not merely undermine the constitutional order, they also harm conservatism. The Left loves to declare that conservative talk of principles is a con and a cover story for self-serving ends. Votes like this lend credence to the charge.
We applaud the dozen Republicans who voted for the resolution. We hope Congress’ next step is to pass a bipartisan bill curbing presidential emergency powers. Perhaps this will be easier for the likes of Cruz, Sasse, and Tillis, because it won’t involve actually confronting Trump.
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