Yesterday when the news broke that Sen. Hawley plans to contest the Electoral College vote on January 6, I fired off an email to him to explain what I thought of him. Hawley’s plan is, of course, an exercise in grandstanding and attention-seeking. More than one commenter today expects Hawley to try for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. I guess he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the base.
Hawley is a hot shot with boundless ambition in spite of being short of serious accomplishment in political office. He does have a serious resume — “He graduated from Stanford University in 2002 and Yale Law School in 2006. He has clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts; he taught at one of London’s elite private schools, St. Paul’s; and he served as an appellate litigator at one of the world’s biggest law firms,” it says here. In 2011 he became an associate professor at the University of Missouri law school. But as an elected official he hasn’t done much.
In 2016 he won election to be the Missouri attorney general. During his campaign against Democratic incumbent Teresa Hensley it was apparent there was some disagreement about what attorneys general do.
Democrat Teresa Hensley says the attorney general is the state’s top prosecutor, and for people to hold that office they must have courtroom experience.
“I’ve practiced law for 25 years, including 10 as a county prosecutor,” Hensley said. “My opponent is a young man who has never represented a client in a Missouri courtroom. He’s never practiced law in Missouri or stood in front a judge in Missouri. He’s not qualified for this job.”
Republican Josh Hawley says the main function of the attorney general’s office is to defend Missourians from an overreaching government and uphold criminal convictions won by local prosecutors that are on appeal. …
… Hawley says Missouri’s economy is “being stifled and strangled by over regulation,” and he vows to use the office to “fight back against Washington dysfunction and bureaucratic overreach.” …
… But Hensley says her opponent has made it clear he’ll use the office to advance an “extreme political agenda” instead of “protecting the people of Missouri from those who would pollute our air and water. From those who would commit consumer fraud. From predatory lenders.”
Hensley was right. Hawley served as state attorney general for only two years before running against Claire McCaskill for U.S. Senate in 2018. He didn’t exactly light the firmament on fire as an AG. The New York Times, October 2018:
A former law professor and clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts, he brought a conservative intellectual pedigree but little management experience to the attorney general’s office, where his campaign says he has gained “a reputation for taking on the big and the powerful.”
But a review of public records and internal documents, as well as interviews with current and former employees, reveals a chaotic tenure as attorney general that has been costly for state taxpayers. Judges have criticized the office over its slow pace of discovery, and Mr. Hawley’s staff had to renege on a settlement in a high-profile civil case.
Mr. Hawley also quietly closed the environmental division and failed to fully vet one of his top supervisors, who departed after a female attorney in the office complained about his conduct. And his deputies took an unusual approach in an investigation of the governor’s office, largely acceding to demands to limit interviews of the governor’s staff to 15 minutes, internal records obtained by The New York Times show.
You’ll remember Eric Greitens, the gun-totin’ Republican Missouri governor who was forced to resign in his first term because of campaign finance issues. Hawley eventually moved against Greitens when it became clear protecting Greitens was getting in the way of his Senate run.
Hawley also got caught using a state vehicle and driver for personal use, such as attending Kansas City Chiefs games. State auditor Nicole Galloway found that Hawley wasted a lot of state money for political and personal purposes, actually. When Galloway ran for governor this year, Hawley got back at her by leveling completely bogus charges against her.
It’s also the case that Hawley sold his home in Missouri in 2019. He doesn’t own a home in the state any more. He uses his sister’s address as his voter’s address, even though he lives full time in Virginia. Figure that one out.
So now Hawley is a U.S. senator, and the question is, does he have the chops to put on the mantle of Trump? Hawley is not the bomastic, over-the-top type that Trump is. Hawley’s thing is more of an affected folksiness. So I don’t think he can pull it off. But lord help us if he does pull it off, because like Trump, he is greedily ambitious and doesn’t let morality and ethics and good of nation stuff get in the way. And unlike Trump, he’s smart.
What is happening in the GOP is that figures such as Hawley, along with many of his Senate and House colleagues, and important Republican players, including the former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, are all trying to position themselves as the heirs of Trump. None of them possesses the same sociopathic qualities as Trump, and their efforts will be less impulsive and presumably less clownish, more calculated and probably less conspiracy-minded. It may be that not all of them support Hawley’s stunt; perhaps some are even embarrassed by it. But these figures are seismographers; they are determined to act in ways that win the approval of the Republican Party’s base. And this goes to the heart of the danger.
The problem with the Republican “establishment” and with elected officials such as Josh Hawley is not that they are crazy, or that they don’t know any better; it is that they are cowards, and that they are weak. They are far more ambitious than they are principled, and they are willing to damage American politics and society rather than be criticized by their own tribe.
But for Hawley, the doomed fight is the point, not the outcome. “Somebody has to stand up here,” he said in an appearance on Fox News. “You’ve got 74 million Americans who feel disenfranchised, who feel like their vote doesn’t matter.”
But this isn’t disenfranchisement. It’s called losing. The votes of Trump supporters mattered; it was just that there were fewer of them than votes for Joe Biden. That’s what happens in an election: One side loses, and if it was your side, it doesn’t mean you got cheated. It just means you lost.
But those voters “deserve to be heard,” Hawley says, as though the problem they have had is an insufficient opportunity to air their deranged conspiracy theories. Never have a group of people so ear-splittingly loud spent so long complaining that they’re being silenced.
No one seriously denies that the Republican base has utterly lost its mind; the only question is how shamelessly GOP politicians will pander to that lunacy. For Hawley, the limit has not yet been reached.
It remains to be seen if Hawley knows any limits where his own self-interest is concerned.