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Take Five: Don Bacon

‘The Glenn Youngkin style is really my style,’ says Nebraska Republican

Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, here in 2019, likes to flash a thumbs-up as he walks down the House steps.
Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, here in 2019, likes to flash a thumbs-up as he walks down the House steps. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Don Bacon is the friendly dad next door who also happens to be a retired Air Force brigadier general and congressman. He’s quick with a pun — he likes to tell Jewish audiences he’s the most kosher bacon they’ll meet (or is it “meat”?) — and says he wishes he spent more time with his kids when they were younger. 

Bacon acknowledges his brand of pragmatic politics that prizes compromise and decency may be a bit of a throwback in these aggressively partisan times. But in an interview last month with CQ Roll Call, the Nebraska Republican said that’s what voters — at least, swing voters in the suburbs — want. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: You played soccer in college, and you’re the co-chair of the Congressional Soccer Caucus. Please give me your hottest takes about the U.S. Men’s National Team and their World Cup chances next year.

A: They keep getting better and better. Our women’s team has always been one of the top two or three, and our men’s team is getting there, I believe. We helped lobby to get them to do the World Cup here, and we’re really proud that it’s coming here [in 2026], plus Mexico and Canada. We’re excited we had a little voice in that.

Q: I’ve heard you consider yourself a prankster or a jokester. What is the best prank you’ve pulled as a congressman?

A: My chief of staff kept using the bathroom, and I would hold the door shut. He thought it was broken. I was trying to convince him to go use the public one. But he kept telling me, “Don, the door’s broken, so don’t use the bathroom.” He didn’t know it was me holding it.

My best prank of all time was when I dropped three gerbils with parachutes in the middle of chapel service when I was going to college. The college president said I’m still famous.

Q: You’re a pretty successful guy, first a brigadier general, and now a congressman. What’s your biggest regret in life?

A: I would love to be back with my kids when they were like 4 or 5 years old and play with them more. I was working 12 or 13 hours a day. So that’s a regret. The youngest is now 25 years old. And I wish I would have applied myself better as a teenager. I was definitely not well behaved. Thankfully, God forgives that stuff, but I would like to have done better. 

Q: You call yourself a pragmatic conservative, a line I believe you borrowed from your old boss, Rep. Edward Madigan, as an intern. Why does that brand seem to be disappearing these days?

A: We’ve become more radicalized, left and right. If you compromise or find consensus, suddenly that’s a bad thing. That’s like chopping off your nose to spite your face. I want our country to be competitive, improve, be the strongest country in the world. If we’re fighting ourselves to the death politically, we’re going to grow weaker. And so we got to start moving forward on what we agree on. 

I don’t want to compromise my conservative values, but I’m willing to find areas of agreement. In the 115th Congress, I was not in the Problem Solvers Caucus. We passed a record number of bills out of the House when Speaker [Paul] Ryan was here, but very little got through the Senate. So that was my clue, like, “OK, this isn’t really working.” I thought, “We need to start working across the aisle in the House to provide bills that can get 60 votes in the Senate.” 

That’s why I became a member of the Problem Solvers, because I want to be more effective. And then we started the For Country Caucus, with [both Republicans and Democrats]. That’s the roadmap down the road. The infrastructure bill started in the Problem Solvers — we put a lot of that together on the House side before the Senate took it. We got to do more of that. We should be able to do that on immigration, some health care features. 

Q: You are in a perennial toss-up district. You’re one of nine Republicans representing a district that Joe Biden carried. What should your fellow Republicans be doing to emulate your political success, and what should they stop doing if they want to help vulnerable members?

A: If you did what the more populist far right side wanted, you’d have 160 seats, but you’d be 50 votes shy of a majority, right? So we got to start winning the suburbs, which we started to do last cycle. 

The Glenn Youngkin style is really my style. He talked about center-right policies — the breakfast table issues of education and security — but also, he was decent. People want a friendly guy. They want someone who’s polite and respectful, at least in our district. They don’t like the anger all the time. Well, 20 or 30 percent of people do, but the majority want someone who’s approachable, respectful and decent. 

You can get half your votes on policy, but the other half really comes down to, do they like you as a person? We need to be what I call “decency conservatives” if we want to win back the majority and compete in the suburbs.

Quick hits

Last book you read? I’m reading a book on Gen. [Ulysses S.] Grant, one of my favorite generals and a great president. And I’ve got the John Boehner book right now, “On the House.” He has some weird phrases. I’ve often wondered what they mean.

In politics, can the ends justify the means? No. Mao killed 80 million people because he thought the ends justify the means. That’s a scary thought. That’s more people than died in World War II.

Least popular opinion? I keep running for Congress, but my wife would like me at home.

If you could do anything else for work, what would it be? Secretary of Defense.

Closest friend across the aisle? Salud Carbajal

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