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GOP senator warns his party must decide between 'conservatism and madness'

Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseGOP senators applaud Biden for global vaccine donation plans Pence: Trump and I may never 'see eye to eye' on events of Jan. 6 White House: Biden will not appoint presidential Jan. 6 commission MORE (R-Neb.), who's said he may vote this month to convict former President TrumpDonald TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster MORE on an article of impeachment, is pushing back against possible retaliation from the Nebraska Republican State Central Committee by warning that his party must choose between “conservatism and madness.”

Sasse on Thursday released a five-minute video responding to Republican officials back home who want to censure him at a Republican State Central Committee meeting on Feb. 13 because of his criticism of Trump.

He warned that purging Trump skeptics from the GOP is “not only civic cancer for the nation [but] just terrible for our party.” 

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Sasse, who didn’t support Trump’s candidacy in 2016 or 2020, dismissed his critics in the state party as “angry about life” and out of step with regular Nebraskans.

“I listen to Nebraskans every day and very few of them are as angry about life as some of the people on this committee. Not all of you, but a lot," Sasse said in the video. "Political addicts don’t represent most Nebraska conservatives."

Sasse is one of several Republican officeholders under attack for criticizing Trump.

Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyTrump has 'zero desire' to be Speaker, spokesman says Liz Cheney hired security after death threats: report Cheney: 'It is disgusting and despicable' to see Gosar 'lie' about Jan. 6 MORE (Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican, on Thursday survived an effort by Trump supporters to oust her from leadership because of her vote in favor of impeachment.

Local Republican Party organizations around the country have moved in recent days to punish Republican lawmakers who voted against Trump last month. 

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The La Salle County Republican Central Committee on Wednesday voted to censure Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerKinzinger: Conspiracy theory FBI planned Jan. 6 example of 'legacy of Trump and Trumpism' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' Why the Democrats need Joe Manchin MORE (R-Ill.) while the South Carolina Republican Party voted Saturday to censure Rep. Tom RiceHugh (Tom) Thompson RiceThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week Progressives nearly tank House Democrats' Capitol security bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel MORE (R-S.C.) for his impeachment vote. 

But Sasse is standing his ground. In the video released Thursday, he blamed Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol that left a police officer and four others dead. 

“Now, many of you are hacked off that I condemned his lies that led to a riot. Let’s be clear: the anger in the state party has never been about me violating principle or abandoning conservative policy. I’m one of the most conservative voters in the senate. The anger has always simply been about me not bending the knee to one guy,” Sasse said, looking directly at the camera to address state party officials.

Sasse called the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol “ugly," and said the “shameful mob violence to disrupt a constitutionally mandated meeting of the Congress to affirm … peaceful transfer of power” was a result of Trump spreading lies about the results of the 2020 election.

“It happened because the president lied to you. He lied about the election results for 60 days, despite losing 60 straight court challenges, many of them handed down by wonderful Trump-appointed judges,” Sasse said.

He said Trump also lied by saying then-Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceIf you care about the US, root for China to score a win in space Pence heckled with calls of 'traitor' at conservative conference The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay MORE could simply violate his constitutional oath by declaring him, instead of now-President Biden, the winner.

“That wasn’t true,” Sasse said.

“He then riled a mob that attacked the capitol, many chanting, ‘Hang Pence.’ If that president were a Democrat, we both know how you’d respond. But because he had 'Republican' behind his name, you’re defending him,” Sasse added, rebuking his critics.

Sasse is one of five Republican senators who last week voted to table a motion by Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPoll: 58 percent say Fauci should not resign Fauci says he puts 'very little weight in the craziness of condemning me' Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior MORE (R-Ky.) declaring the Senate impeachment trial of Trump unconstitutional because he is no longer in office.

Sasse said Republicans who have embraced Trump’s claims of a stolen election are straying from their core conservative beliefs and urged them to preserve the GOP’s identity as a party founded on long-standing principles instead of merely allegiance to the former president.

“Something has definitely changed over the last four years, but it’s not me," he said. "Personality cults aren’t conservative. Conspiracy theories aren’t conservative. Lying that an election has been stolen, it’s not conservative. Acting like politics is a religion, it isn’t conservative."

Sasse said most Nebraska voters agree with him and pointed to his 2020 reelection campaign, in which he won tens of thousands of more votes than Trump in the state in November.

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He noted that he won the Omaha area “handily” while Trump lost it by “a lot.”

“Nebraskans aren’t rage addicts and that’s good news. You are welcome to censure me again, but let’s be clear about why this is happening — it’s because I still believe as you used to that politics isn’t about the weird worship of one dude,” he said.

The Nebraska Republican Party censured Sasse in May 2016 for not being supportive enough of Trump.

Sasse won his Senate Republican primary in May 2020 by a large margin, setting a record for votes received by a candidate for federal office in a Nebraska primary.

He carried all 93 counties in the state during the general election.

“We’re going to have to choose between conservatism and madness, between just trolling and actually persuading the rising generation of Americans again,” he said.

“That’s what I’m focused on and I sincerely hope many of you will join in celebrating these big worthwhile causes for freedom,” he added. “I’m always going to work hard for Nebraskans and I’m always going to tell you the truth.”