- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2016

GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said Thursday Americans are living in a time of “constitutional crisis,” launching a full-throated defense of the U.S. Constitution and First Amendment rights he said are getting lost on certain college students’ desire for “safe spaces.”

“I am an American first, and I am a conservative second, and I am only a Republican third, although I am happily a Republican,” Mr. Sasse said at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

“It’s been a bad seven years for the Republican party. It’s been a bad seven years for conservatism. But even more importantly than that, it’s been a real bad period for those of us who believe deeply, who cherish, who love the American idea,” he said.

For example, he hit President Obama for comments from Mr. Obama saying that he does believe in American exceptionalism, just as he suspected people from other cultures believe in their own exceptionalism.

Mr. Sasse, first elected in 2014, also said that Americans are living in a time of “constitutional crisis.”

“We live in a time where our kids don’t understand the American idea,” he said. “We live in a time when students who should be challenged with competing ideas on college campuses are instead crying out for safe spaces so they never have to encounter an idea that might challenge them. That’s a mess.”

“We live in a time when 41 percent of Americans under age 35 think the First Amendment is dangerous,” he said. “Because someone might use their freedom of speech to say something that hurts someone else’s feelings. Actually, that’s quite the point.”

“Our founders had different views of religion — they were debating heaven and hell,” he said. “You might hurt somebody’s feelings if you talk about mortality and big things, and government is the framework that says we’re not going to shoot at each other while we talk about it, but we’re going to sit at the table and argue like people with big boy pants on that actually thinks ideas have consequences.”

Mr. Sasse has gained attention in recent weeks for repeatedly criticizing GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump and saying he won’t vote for him in the fall if Mr. Trump does win the Republican nomination.

He didn’t devote his speech to mentioning specific 2016 candidates, but urged conservatives to be mindful of who they’re voting for — and did employ Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan of “make America great again.”

“You need to hear from your presidential candidates someone that you would want to sit at the dinner table with your children and extol forth the virtues of an America that is about the greatness of 320 million Americans, not the powers of the federal bureaucracy,” Mr. Sasse said.

“Do you hear a champion not of tearing more things down, but of building America back up?” he said. “Because I am anti-establishment, but what we need most of all is not just someone who wants to breathe fire on Washington, but wants to breathe passion into our children for a constitutional recovery, because that’s how we will actually make America great again.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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