by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Over the weekend, Mitt Romney showcased two of the party’s brightest national prospects, Arkansas senator Tom Cotton and Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, at his annual Experts and Enthusiasts summit in Deer Valley, Utah. The pair sat on stage before a crowd of about 300 attendees, the vast majority of them depressed and disconsolate about the rise of Donald Trump. …
… As some of the earliest shadowboxing for the party’s 2020 nomination kicks off, the two rising stars have staked out essentially opposing positions with respect to Trump. Cotton believes the billionaire developer represents a populism the GOP should and must incorporate, while Sasse sees him as a grave, existential threat to the future of conservatism.
Two years ago, the New York Times noted the obvious similarities between the two men: Both are Harvard graduates from relatively humble backgrounds, and both worked as management consultants — Cotton at McKinsey, Sasse at UBS and then at McKinsey — before running for office. Both were elected to the Senate in 2014, Cotton at the age of 37, Sasse at the age of 42.
But they’ve parted ways on Trump, and the divide has already had political consequences for each of them. If Sasse has become the poster boy for the anti-Trumpers, Cotton was, until recently, himself something of a hero to the small but influential group of conservative intellectuals — journalists, donors, and political operatives — driving opposition to the presumptive GOP nominee.
And then he chose to stay silent on Trump.