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

Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseSenators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks Republicans, please save your party MORE (R-Neb.), who's said he may vote this month to convict former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Albany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Advocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout 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 CheneyMarjorie Taylor Greene's delay tactics frustrate GOP Paul Ryan to host fundraiser for Cheney amid GOP tensions Republicans, please save your party 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 KinzingerMarjorie Taylor Greene's delay tactics frustrate GOP Republicans, please save your party House GOP campaign chief: Not helpful for Trump to meddle in primaries MORE (R-Ill.) while the South Carolina Republican Party voted Saturday to censure Rep. Tom RiceHugh (Tom) Thompson RiceMarjorie Taylor Greene's delay tactics frustrate GOP Republicans, please save your party Republican Party going off the rails? 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 PenceSunday shows preview: Manchin makes the rounds after pivotal role in coronavirus relief debate DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Pence to narrate Limbaugh documentary series for Fox Nation 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 PaulWhite House open to reforming war powers amid bipartisan push House approves George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers 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.”