While visions of future presidential glory danced through his head during the Christmas season, Senator Josh Hawley apparently had an epiphany. He could get the jump on those other 2024 presidential wannabes by making a bold move to grab the hearts of Trump’s base. He would be the Senate counterpart of Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks’ brilliant strategy to deny the presidency to Joe Biden.
Because of his elite schooling (Stanford, Yale Law), clerking for Chief Justice Roberts, work at a high-powered Washington law firm, law school professoring, short stint as Missouri Attorney General and claim to be a “constitutional lawyer,” he obviously knew the effort was doomed to fail. But, on the other hand, it could win him lasting favor with Donald Trump and his diehard followers.
Much like the Bushwhackers in Missouri, who rose up against the United States during the later stages of the Civil War, Hawley let it be known that he would challenge Biden’s election on the floor of the Senate. The Bushwhackers of yore were mostly illiterate young men. But, despite his pampered upbringing and elite education, Hawley appears to share their disdain for America’s democratic institutions and norms.
Even though Trump supporters had been unable to produce competent evidence of fraud or impropriety in over 60 lawsuits, Hawley seized on some of their rhetoric to justify his move. As Carl Sandberg famously said, “If the law and facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.” Hawley yelled that those darn people in Pennsylvania did not follow their election laws and it was up to him to call them to account (especially since his former boss, Chief Justice John Roberts, and the rest of the conservative Supreme Court majority had declined to do so).
Hawley failed to show how challenging Pennsylvania’s vote would justify denial of the election to Biden. Even if all of the state’s 20 electoral votes were gifted to Trump, Biden would still be the victor. Nevertheless, he moved forward with his scheme to cast unwarranted doubt on the election so as to ingratiate himself with Trump’s true believers.
Some of Hawley’s compatriots were not particularly pleased with his sycophantic gambit. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), called it a “dangerous ploy” designed to “disenfranchise millions of Americans simply because they voted for someone in a different party.” Sasse aptly observed that “Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.”
Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson attributed Hawley’s impetuous action to “heedless ambition” that constitutes “a threat to the republic.”
It appears that the young Senator has learned the wrong lesson from the Trump presidency–that service to self always trumps service to the country. Now that the country is turning the page on the Trump years, Hawley may discover to his regret that informed voters want political leaders who lead, not those who get mired in the politics of grievance and recrimination.
Leaders who disrespect the democratic institutions of the United States, such as our dedication to the peaceful transfer of power through the electoral process, will find themselves on the wrong side of history. The country has gone through a four-year test of its democratic endurance and will eventually be stronger for it.
Those, like Hawley, who attack the cherished norms of our unique form of government may come to naught, just like those Bushwhackers of old, who sought to sabotage that government for their own personal benefit.