Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska openly rebuked President Donald Trump in a telephone town hall with constituents on Wednesday, saying the president mishandled the response to COVID-19, "flirted with white supremacists" and that the GOP could face an electoral "bloodbath." That's according to news outlets which have confirmed the comments with Sasse's office.
In the audio, obtained first by the Washington Examiner and posted to YouTube, Sasse answers a question from a constituent first with praise for Trump, particularly how the president has come around to more traditional Republican values.
But then Sasse launched into his criticisms and a fear of what that will mean for the party going forward.
"The way he kisses dictators' butts. I mean, the way he ignores that the Uighurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang right now. He hasn't lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong-Kongers. He and I have a very different foreign policy. It isn't just that he fails to lead our allies, it's that the United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership. The way he treats women and spends like a drunken sailor. The ways I criticize President Obama for that kind of spending, I've criticized President Trump for as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He's flirted with white supremacists."
Sasse also said Trump did not take COVID-19 seriously when the pandemic began and that the president treated it like a crisis of public relations instead of public health, according to the Examiner.
Sasse reportedly also had harsh words for the media by accusing it of blaming Trump for the COVID-19 crisis. But Sasse implied that Trump's response has been scattershot, saying Trump careened "from curb to curb."
Ultimately, Sasse -- who repeatedly spoke in the call about Republicans being the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan -- said he fears Trump's brand of politics will lead Americans to go further left.
"I think that it's my duty to level with Nebraskans even though I recognize that a lot of our voters in Nebraska are Trumpier than I am and they sometimes get frustrated with me," Sasse said.
Sasse also said he believes Trump won in 2016 because Hillary Clinton was extremely unpopular.
The senator said he has been focused on making sure Republicans hold on to Senate control, not with trying to help Trump win re-election.
"I think we are staring down the barrel of a blue tsunami and we've got to hold the Senate and that's what I am focused on," Sasse said.
Sasse is up for re-election this year and his seat is considered safe by election forecasters. But the Republicans' three-seat Senate majority is in danger, with Democrats leading or virtually tied in the polls in multiple races against GOP incumbents. Democrats are also expected to hold control of the House and possibly add seats.