Josh Hawley looked like he had seen a ghost.
The 40-something Missouri Republican senator was clearly shaken and uncertain of himself Wednesday night as he spoke on the Senate floor – decrying the violence that had led to the seizure of the US Capitol by pro-Trump forces earlier in the day, even while still trying to defend his much-publicized plan to object to the Electoral College results in several states.
“Violence is not how you achieve change,” Hawley cautioned. “Violence is not how you achieve something better.”
Well, yes. But, maybe – just maybe – Hawley should have realized that BEFORE he decided to become the first senator to sign on to the objection to the Electoral College, ensuring that there would be both debate and votes on these objections.
It was more than a little ironic then that the man who let the genie out of the bottle was suddenly condemning what that genie did. Who could have known that encouraging false – and debunked – claims about nonexistent fraud could lead ardent Trump supporters to act on their dissatisfaction and anger when gathered in a large group in Washington? Man, what a shock! Not.
The Kansas City Star’s editorial board penned a blistering op-ed – headlined “Assault on democracy: Sen. Josh Hawley has blood on his hands in Capitol coup attempt” – slamming Hawley for his role in starting this fire. Here’s the key bit:
“No one other than President Donald Trump himself is more responsible for Wednesday’s coup attempt at the U.S. Capitol than one Joshua David Hawley, the 41-year-old junior senator from Missouri, who put out a fundraising appeal while the siege was underway.
“This, Sen. Hawley, is what law-breaking and destruction look like. This is what mobs do. This is not a protest, but a riot. One woman was shot by Capitol Police in the chaos and died while lawmakers were sheltering in place.
“No longer can it be asked, as George Will did recently of Hawley, ‘Has there ever been such a high ratio of ambition to accomplishment?’ Hawley’s actions in the last week had such impact that he deserves an impressive share of the blame for the blood that’s been shed.”
Hawley’s calculation here was simple. He has made no secret of his ambition to run for national office as soon as he can. But at 41 years old and still not a known name in conservative circles, he saw his chance to change that by being the first one to step forward and carry Trump’s election fraud nonsense in the Senate. He immediately won praise from the Trump media for his bravery and willingness to stand up to the mainstream media.
And more importantly for Hawley’s future national ambitions, he raised money off of his move. “As you can imagine, I am being pressured from the Washington and Wall Street establishment to ignore the will of the people and avoid raising this issue,” he wrote in a fundraising missive shortly after he announced his decision to object to the results. “But I do not answer to any establishment, I answer to hardworking American people.” And as the Star noted in its editorial, Hawley sent out another fundraising appeal Wednesday morning – just an hour before the Capitol was stormed.
While Hawley will still remain a hero to the most ardent pro-Trumpers – and there are still a bloc of them both in and out of Congress – it’s hard to see how this episode did anything but tarnish his chances of ascending to higher office.
Hawley would have done well to have followed the lead of the man sitting behind him as he tried to explain away his actions (and their impacts) on Wednesday night on the Senate floor: Mitt Romney.
“Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy,” said Romney. “They will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode in American history. That will be their legacy.”