By ISAAC SCHORR
January 8, 2021
Are you a Republican voter? Do you plan to participate in the 2024 presidential primary? If your answer to these first two questions is “yes,” I have a third: Aren’t you angry?
Almost daily, Josh Hawley, the lean and hungry legislator who helped incite an attack on his own place of work, intimates that a majority of Republicans are stupid. Make no mistake: The senator from Missouri is guilty of far more than pandering or misleading to appeal to “the base” on occasion. Your presumed ignorance and gullibility are the driving forces behind his every move.
The latest insult came on Thursday, only a day after a conspiracy theory not only boosted by, but acted upon by Hawley — a Yale Law School graduate who didn’t believe for a moment that the election was stolen by Democrats, or that it could be stolen by Republicans in Congress during the certification process — resulted in an attack on the U.S. Capitol building. But for Josh Hawley, the greatest tragedy of this past week is not that there was a failed insurrection egged on by the president of the United States. It’s that Simon & Schuster, the erstwhile publisher of Hawley’s forthcoming book, The Tyranny of Big Tech (Big Tech is another issue where Hawley assumes your ignorance), announced it would not move forward with the project. Here was Hawley’s response:
If it’s a constitutional claim that Hawley is planning on making in court, he can expect to have about as much luck as the Trump campaign has had in recent months. Simon & Schuster’s decision is neither Orwellian nor a violation of the First Amendment, much less a “direct assault” on it. The government is not restricting Hawley’s speech. He is free to find a publisher willing to associate itself with him. I believe that Simon & Schuster should not have canceled this contract, as America is better off when its institutions abide by the spirit and not just the letter of the First Amendment. But the company is under no constitutional obligation to associate with Hawley. I can certainly understand why it would not want to after Wednesday’s events.
The objective of Hawley’s statement is obvious: to take this personal event, which has occurred as a direct result of his own behavior, and to make Republicans feel as if this was a personal attack on them and their beliefs. It was not. But remember: Hawley’s political fortunes are tied to a bet that voters won’t think clearly. A bet that he is all-in on after continuing to object to the certification of the election by Congress even after the assault on the Capitol.
Most insidious about Hawley’s assumption is that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. When conservative officials such as Hawley and the disgraced Ted Cruz — leaders we’re supposed to be able to trust — propagate conspiracy theories, that signals to voters that these theories are or may be true. Conspiracy theories are natural, and laymen’s belief in them does not automatically make them stupid. We all have busy lives, and most Americans are unable to spend their every waking moment staying apprised of every political going-on. They rely on officials of their own ideological bent to tell them the truth. When those officials lie for perceived political benefit, it has consequences. Consequences made more serious by motivated reasoning and an inclination to believe the worst of “the enemy.” Consequences that are sometimes even bloody.
Much is made these days, especially by Senator Hawley, of “the elites” and their supposed disdain for regular Americans. For many years, and particularly since Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination in 2016, Senator Mitt Romney has been branded such an elitist. But Romney spoke far more wisely on this subject than Hawley on Wednesday: “The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth!” Indeed. The older you get, the more facts of life your parents let you in on. It starts with Santa Claus, and it only gets more depressing from there.
I have one more question, then. What’s more condescending and scornful: truth or deceit?
by Joel Mathis
January 4, 2021
For Republicans in Congress planning to vote Wednesday against certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election victory, the lie has become its own justification.
The lie is that Donald Trump was deprived of re-election due to fraud or some other shenanigans. Numerous courts have rejected those allegations, and the Justice Department hasn’t found any evidence of wrongdoing widespread enough to overturn the election results. The president and a few of his nuttier allies keep flogging claims that the election was stolen — and Trump might even believe his own lies about the election, if we’re to believe the recordings of his weekend phone call where he pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “recalculate” that state’s voting results. But there is no reason to believe that is true. Given Trump’s history of crying wolf whenever he doesn’t win, there is plenty of reason to believe he is running his usual con.
“Millions of voters concerned about election integrity deserve to be heard,” Hawley said in a tweet announcing his intentions. “I will object on January 6 on their behalf.”
A statement released Saturday by Cruz and some of his fellow Republican senators offered a similar justification.
“By any measure, the allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes,” they wrote. “And those allegations are not believed just by one individual candidate. Instead, they are widespread. Reuters/Ipsos polling, tragically, shows that 39 percent of Americans believe ‘the election was rigged.’ That belief is held by Republicans (67 percent), Democrats (17 percent), and Independents (31 percent).”
Trump himself parroted that premise in his phone call with Raffensperger.
“The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry,” he said. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”
You will notice that for the most part, Trump’s Republican allies don’t quite affirm the substance of the lie — they don’t present any evidence to support allegations of wrongdoing, no real reason to believe that Joe Biden’s election was anything but fairly and honorably won. Instead they cite the widespread (and wrongheaded) belief in wrongdoing as justification to upend our democracy.
What a cute trick.
The reason so many Americans — particularly Republicans — believe the election was rigged is because Trump keeps lying to them and telling them the election was rigged. That so many people have swallowed the president’s falsehoods allows Hawley and Cruz to pose as defenders of the democratic ideal while simultaneously undercutting it. But it also has the effect of letting them magnify the lie and its potential consequences without doing anything so tawdry as lying themselves. It is a form of plausible deniability, a version of “just asking questions” that keeps untruths in play without taking responsibility for them.
This is wrong and shamefully cynical.
“He surely knows this isn’t true and that the legal arguments don’t hold water,” an anonymous source close to Hawley told The Atlantic’s Peter Wehner. “And yet clearly the incentives he confronts — as someone who wants to speak for those voters, and as someone with ambitions beyond the Senate — lead him to conclude he should pretend the lie is true.”
Not every Republican is on board with these efforts. Raffensperger, for example, held fast against Trump’s pressure by simply and repeatedly — even respectfully, though it wasn’t warranted — affirming the truth. “Mr. President,” he said, according to the recording, “the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”
Pretty simple, right?
We have seen this kind of Hawley-Cruz-style cynicism in the not-too-distant past. In 2011, then-House Speaker John Boehner rejected the notion that he and other Republican leaders should vigorously challenge the falsehood — widespread among GOP voters — that Barack Obama had been born abroad and thus held the presidency against the Constitution’s requirements.
“It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think,” Boehner said.
It should be the job of elected leaders to tell their constituents the truth, however. As it happened, the chief proponent of the birther lie against Obama was Donald Trump. Elected Republican elites never quite endorsed his crusade, but they did allow themselves to benefit from it and the way it stirred up the passions of their base. Mitt Romney, who has criticized Hawley and Cruz’s efforts, happily accepted Trump’s endorsement for president in 2012, a step toward cementing the notion of Trump as a plausible political figure. When you don’t counteract a lie with truth, it seems, the lie can keep growing until it overwhelms and controls you — becomes something that you don’t just passively accept for advantage, but which becomes your reason and justification for action. So it goes with today’s Republican Party.
Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.
By THOMAS BEAUMONT AND JIM SALTER
JAN 09, 2021
O’FALLON, MO — A Republican colleague rebuked him on the Senate floor. A home-state newspaper editorial board declared he has “blood on his hands.” But for Josh Hawley, the Missouri senator who staged an Electoral College challenge that became the focus of a violent siege of the U.S. Capitol, the words of his political mentor were the most personal.
“Supporting Josh Hawley … was the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life,” former Missouri Sen. John Danforth told The Associated Press on Thursday. “He has consciously appealed to the worst. He has attempted to drive us apart and he has undermined public belief in our democracy. And that’s great damage.”
“Sen. Hawley was doing something that was really dumb-ass,” Sen. Ben Sasse, a fellow Republican from neighboring Nebraska, told NPR Friday. “This was a stunt. It was a terrible, terrible idea. And you don’t lie to the American people, and that’s what’s been going on.”
Sasse had previously excoriated Hawley on Facebook, prior to the Capitol incident.
Aside from President Donald Trump, who roiled up supporters just before they stormed the Capitol, no politician has been more publicly blamed for Wednesday’s unprecedented assault on American democracy than Hawley. The 41-year-old first-term senator, a second-tier player through much of the Trump era, has rapidly emerged as a strident Trump ally, and may be among the most tarnished by the events of Jan. 6 for years to come.
“There will be political fallout for his actions,” said Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist and former adviser to the 2016 presidential campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who like Hawley, drew significant criticism for pushing ahead with the Electoral College challenge.
“The initial decision to oppose the will of the people was downright wrong,” Stewart said. “The post-insurrection calculation to continue the charade is fallacious and dangerous.”
The Kansas City Star went a step further, saying in an editorial posted late Wednesday that no one other than Trump was more responsible than Hawley.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board, on the other side of the state, called for Hawley’s resignation.
“Meanwhile, Sen. Josh Hawley had the gall to stand before the Senate Wednesday night and feign shock, shock at what happened — hours after he had fist-pumped and cheered the rioters as they arrived on Capitol Hill,” the board wrote. “Hawley’s tardy, cover-his-ass condemnation of the violence ranks at the top of his substantial list of phony, smarmy and politically expedient declarations.”
The Houston Chronicle, Cruz’s hometown paper, also called on the Texas senator to resign.
“In Texas, we have our share of politicians who peddle wild conspiracy theories and reckless rhetoric aiming to inflame,” the paper wrote. “But we reserve special condemnation for the perpetrators among them who are of sound mind and considerable intellect — those who should damn well know better.”
Hawley, who defeated Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2018, was once celebrated by the Republican establishment as a rising star. The Stanford- and Yale-educated lawyer was young, ambitious and savvy. It surprised some when he was first to announce he would endorse false claims of fraud and take up Trump’s cause, forcing House and Senate votes that would inevitably fail and in no way alter the election’s outcome.
Support of the challenge to the electoral vote count was seen as keeping in good stead with Trump’s supporters, who dominate the Republican base. The move instantly raised his national profile. Soon Hawley and Cruz were leading about 10 other senators in the effort — notably not winning over Sens. Sasse or Tom Cotton of Arkansas, two other young Republicans viewed as having presidential ambitions.
As he walked into the Capitol on Wednesday, Hawley cheered on pro-Trump protesters gathering outside the building with a thumbs up and fist pump.
But Hawley’s scheme fell apart almost before it got going. As the Senate began debate, pro-Trump mobs barreled into the Capitol and interrupted proceedings. By the time the Senate reconvened, after one woman was shot and killed by police and parts of the Capitol ransacked, support in the Senate for challenging the results had all but evaporated.
Dozens of courts, state elections officials and even Trump’s former attorney general have said there was no evidence of widespread election fraud. Still, Hawley asked his Senate colleagues “to address the concerns of so many millions of Americans” by investigating the 2020 vote.
He faced instant rebuke from his own party. With Hawley sitting near, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney blasted those who objected to finalizing President-elect Joe Biden’s election.
Accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, Romney said “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.”
“That will be their legacy,” he added.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, told Politico he lobbied for Cruz, Hawley and others to change their votes while a group of senators was under lockdown.
“There’s no way they cannot be complicit in this. That they think they can walk away and say, ‘I just exercised my right as a senator?’ Especially after we came back here and after they saw what happened,” Sen. Manchin said. “I don’t know how you can live with yourself right now knowing that people lost their lives.”
Another Republican senator, granted anonymity by Politico, said this: “Their whole antic, if you will, is a lie. It’s built on a lie and both know that. To the degree that perpetuating this lie helped incite the crowd, that’s a responsibility that Ted and Josh sort of own, along with Donald Trump.”
In the deeply divided GOP, that may not be the prevailing view. In Missouri, a state Trump won by almost 16 percentage points, some argued Hawley was blameless.
“For people to blame Sen. Hawley for the people that came up to the Capitol to break the windows — and came wearing helmets and trying to break in — that’s absurd,” said Republican state Rep. Justin Hill, who skipped his own inaugural ceremony Wednesday to attend Trump’s rally in Washington.
Hill, who was the lead sponsor of a Missouri House resolution last month asking Congress to reject some states’ Electoral College votes, said Hawley was “defending the Constitution.”
Yet, GOP state Sen. Shamed Dogan of Ballwin in suburban St. Louis, like Danforth, said late Wednesday he regretted supporting Hawley.
“I have never regretted a vote as much and as quickly as my vote for @HawleyMO in 2018,” he tweeted. “His refusal to accept the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election, even after today’s violence, is an embarrassment.”
At least one major donor turned on Hawley, now calling him a “political opportunist” and urging the Senate to censure him.
David Humphreys is president and CEO of Tamko Building Products in Joplin, Missouri, who has donated millions of dollars to Hawley and other Republicans. But Humphreys opposed Trump’s election in 2016, saying he couldn’t justify supporting Trump to his children.
“I need to say the same about Missouri’s U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, who has shown his true colors as an anti-democracy populist by supporting Trump’s false claim of a ‘stolen election,’” Humphreys said in a statement provided to The Associated Press Friday. “Hawley’s irresponsible, inflammatory, and dangerous tactics have incited violence and further discord across America. And he has now revealed himself as a political opportunist willing to subvert the Constitution and the ideals of the nation he swore to uphold.”
The pile-on continued. The student bar association at the University of Missouri law school, where Hawley taught, issued a statement calling for his resignation.
The Star noted Hawley had issued a political fundraising solicitation as the siege was underway.
“But this is not about me! It is about the people I serve, and it is about ensuring confidence in our elections,” said the email sent just as thousands were marching up Pennsylvania Avenue from a rally outside the White House headlined by Trump. “That’s why I am standing up on behalf of the people I serve to relay their concerns to Washington. For conviction. For principle. For our country. For YOUR VOTE.”
Simon & Schuster canceled the publication of Hawley’s upcoming book, “The Tyranny of Big Tech.”
The publisher said it values publishing diverse view points. “At the same time, we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom,” it said in a statement.
Hawley responded by calling the decision a “direct assault on the First Amendment.”
“I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have. We’ll see you in court.”
Many attorneys on Twitter pointed out Hawley, a lawyer with an elite pedigree, is willfully misrepresenting the First Amendment, which prohibits restrictions on speech by the government and not private publishing companies. The son of Antonin Scalia — a conservative legal hero and early steward of The Federalist Society, which Hawley led at Yale — wrote on Twitter it took “some balls” for Hawley to issue the statement.
Danforth, who served for three terms, said he remembers how impressed he was when he first met Hawley at a dinner party when Hawley was just a law student. The young man reminded him of his friend, Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Danforth said.
“I felt he could add real intellectual heft and make a great, great contribution to the Senate,” he said.
Now Danforth wonders how Hawley will be able to work with his Senate colleagues, even Republicans, moving forward.
“How is he going to operate in the Senate with Republicans? When (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell pleads don’t do this and he does it, and then this is the consequence,” he said. “How is he going to get along with his colleagues? How is he going to do anything? What’s his political future?”
Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press correspondent David Lieb contributed from Jefferson City, Missouri. Chicago Tribune staff also contributed.