Politics & Policy

Ben Sasse Asks the Donald: Would a President Trump Govern According to the Constitution?

(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Last night, one week before the Iowa caucuses, Nebraska senator Ben Sasse took to Twitter to (cordially) ask Donald J. Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, a series of pointed questions:

Trump is famously active on Twitter, a social-media platform not often associated with erudite thought or sober-mindedness. But, in a way, it seemed appropriate for Sasse — one of the leaders of the new generation of reform-minded conservative Republican senators and easily the Senate’s best tweeter — to use the medium to press Trump for answers on health-care policy, gun control, taxes, and Trump’s self-proclaimed proclivity for female companionship:

#share#But the junior senator from Nebraska seemed to be most concerned with Trump’s answer to his final question regarding the appropriate role of the executive branch in the American constitutional system.

This is not the first time Sasse has attempted to direct attention to the fraying of our constitutional norms. Last November, after waiting the (formerly traditional) full year after his election to the U.S. Senate before delivering a speech from the floor, Sasse addressed his colleagues in a thoughtful, eloquent speech arguing that the Senate must reassert its place within America’s governing framework.

“We need Democrats to speak up when a Democratic president exceeds his powers,” Sasse said. “And I promise you that I plan to speak up when the next president of my party exceeds his or her proper powers.”

#related#While Trump is not yet president — or even the Republican nominee — it is encouraging that a rising Republican star should see it as his duty to query a member of his own party on the fundamental issue of executive self-restraint.

“The American people should demand more of us as legislators, and they should demand more of the next president as a competent administrator of the laws that we pass,” Sasse told his fellow senators. “That is only possible if we again have some identity commitments that are about the Constitution’s Article I (the legislature) in tension with the duties of the Article II branch (the executive). Everything cannot be simply Republicans versus Democrats.”

Last night, Sasse — in his role as a citizen-legislator — made a down payment on his promise to hold a politician of his own party to account. Would a President Trump follow in the path of President Barack “I have a phone and a pen” Obama, abandoning the separation of powers to rule by fiat? Or would Trump govern under the restraints the Founders had envisioned for a republic of laws, not men?

Ben Sasse had the courage to ask. Will Donald Trump have the courage to answer?

— Mark Antonio Wright is an assistant editor at National Review.

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