On the morning of January 6, hours before a right-wing mob attacked Congress, leaving five people dead and halting the peaceful transfer of presidential power for the first time in the nation’s history, Josh Hawley arrived at the Capitol early. A group of demonstrators who had answered the president’s call to “stop the steal” cheered when they spotted the 41-year-old first-term Republican senator from Missouri, tall and thin with a youthful swoop of hair. Hawley glanced in their direction with a look of determination and raised his fist in solidarity. The image, captured by a well-placed photographer, would become one of the day’s enduring visuals. It depicted the confident strut of a guy who still thinks everything is going according to plan.
A week earlier, Hawley had been the first senator to announce that he would object to the Electoral College votes from a handful of key states. Not to be outdone in their loyalty to Donald Trump, more than a dozen colleagues (led by Ted Cruz) followed suit, turning a staid tradition into an unprecedented constitutional challenge. When a small group of protesters, clutching candles and bullhorns and signs quoting Hamilton, gathered outside his Washington-area home, Hawley denounced them as “Antifa scumbags” who were “terrorizing” his block. But he shrugged off warnings that, in his quest to earn the affection of Trump and his base, he was leading his followers to a dark place. During a Fox News hit the same evening as the protest at Hawley’s home, Bret Baier pressed the senator to tell viewers that Joe Biden would be president. He refused.
Hawley wanted those viewers to remain in doubt about the election’s outcome. He wanted them to believe something had been taken from them. He wanted them to be angry. His team even readied a fundraising pitch to monetize their rage. On the afternoon of what was to be Hawley’s big moment of righteous intransigence in the Senate chamber, his campaign messaged its supporters with an urgent request: Hawley was “leading the charge to fight for free and fair elections,” the text said. Could you chip in $20 to help?
By then the world was watching in horror as violent Trump supporters overran the Capitol. With the exception of Trump himself, no one would come in for as much blame for inciting the deadly attack as Hawley. What the senator would later defend as an innocent attempt at “democratic debate” was the culmination of what Biden, discussing Hawley a few days after the riot, would call the “big lie”—in which conservative leaders amplified bogus claims of voting fraud and irregularities and then claimed they were acting on behalf of outraged constituents in questioning the election’s results.
Until the Capitol insurrection, Hawley had sailed through the GOP ranks with the ease of a certain type of young politician—usually white and male—who gets floated for everything before he’s done much of anything. A product of all the right institutions, groomed by the GOP’s old guard and endorsed by its fire-eaters, Hawley was the party’s top Senate recruit in 2018, when he unseated two-term incumbent Claire McCaskill. Barring a major scandal, he was in a position to hold onto his job for as long as he wanted—which, if you listened to the presidential speculation, didn’t appear to be very long at all.
But suddenly Hawley was facing condemnation from all directions. Republican colleagues called his objection to the certification of electoral votes a “dumbass” stunt and a ploy to “get attention & raise money.” Donors jumped ship. Hawley had “blood on his hands,” the Kansas City Star editorialized, demanding that he resign or face expulsion. As the Senate prepared to evacuate, reporters watched Mitt Romney, the Utah Republican, turn to the objectors in his caucus and shout: “This is what you’ve gotten, guys.”
If Hawley survives this crisis—and there’s no reason to think he won’t—it will show that Trumpism won’t be purged from the Republican Party so easily. While some of the leading Republicans in Congress sound desperate to make a clean break from Trump (and his most rabid supporters), one of the party’s brightest and most brazenly ambitious young things made a different bet about the future of his party. Among a small army of Republican up-and-comers vying to succeed Trump in 2024, he’s carved out a place for himself by fusing social conservatism with the savvier aspects of Trump’s populism, encapsulated in a crusade against the monopoly power of Big Tech and an out-of-touch “aristocracy.” During the pandemic, he had even linked arms with Democrats to push for massive relief programs to help “working people.” The party’s future was a multiracial “working-class party, not a Wall Street party,” he proclaimed after the election. Hawley has made the cynical gamble that the movement Trump assembled isn’t going away, and that a smarter, more disciplined messenger can harness its power while avoiding the self-defeating pitfalls of its erratic founder. But in his quest to inherit Trump’s mantle, he has also shown himself to be every bit as willing as Trump to trash democratic norms and push the nation toward autocracy for his own political ends.
Hawley grew up in Lexington, Missouri, a river town of about 4,500 people an hour east of Kansas City. His father, a banker, was active in local Republican politics. His mother was a teacher. They regularly hosted Bible study for high school students in their living room. Lexington is Hawley’s political anchor, the embodiment of the cultural and political universe he calls “the Great American Middle.” It is “where people work hard and live right,” he told voters during his 2018 campaign—where “you know your neighbors” and “people look out for each other.” When Hawley returned to Missouri as an adult after a sojourn on the coasts at some of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions—this time to Columbia—it was, he told voters, because he wanted to raise his kids “somewhere that was a real place that they could really be from.” (Hawley is currently raising his kids in a $1.3 million home in Northern Virginia, while listing his sister’s house in the Ozarks as a voting address—but only until construction is finished on a new home nearby, he says.)
Rural Missouri looms large in Hawley’s political identity as much because of what it is as because of what it is not, chiefly: other places, outside the Great American Middle, where he contends American values are under attack. Those places are the domain of a “cosmopolitan elite,” Hawley told a ballroom of conservative dignitaries in DC last year. “This class lives in the United States, but they identify as citizens of the world.” They prize “social change over tradition, career over community, and achievement and merit and progress.” They “run businesses or oversee universities here,” he said, “but their primary loyalty” is to the profitable and “progressive” idol of globalization.
The populism that Hawley embraces, as much as it is about a theory of economics and governance, is also about defining who “the people” are—often in relation to a villain class that doesn’t belong. And his remarks had a familiar and ominous ring to them. A writer at Jewish Currents compared Hawley’s language to that of Henry Ford, whose Dearborn Independent mounted a seven-year crusade against “the International Jew” in the wake of the First World War. Basing its jeremiads in part on the anti-Semitic forgery known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Ford’s paper alleged that the nation was being undercut by members of a stateless class who controlled economic levers—such as banks and mass media—and who lived in the United States but did not subscribe to its values. “The Jew has been for centuries a cosmopolitan,” one article in the Independent said. “While under a flag he may be correct in the conduct required of him as a citizen or resident, inevitably he has a view of flags which can hardly be shared by the man who has known but one flag.” Citizens of the world, if you will. Trump, channeling his adviser Steve Bannon, similarly railed against “international bankers” and a conspiracy of “global special interests” who were “rigging the system” during his 2016 campaign. The Anti-Defamation League condemned Hawley’s speech (as it did Trump’s), arguing that he deployed anti-Semitic tropes, even if unintentionally. Hawley called the ADL’s charge “absurd,” and said that “using the charge of bigotry to shut down debate” was, well, typical “elite” behavior.
The foundation for Hawley’s political career was laid early. During his Senate race, the St. Louis alt-weekly Riverfront Times dug up columns he wrote for his hometown Lexington News in the mid-1990s—as part of a regular feature called State of the Union—in which Hawley castigated a society “increasingly devoid of moral values,” and leapt to the defense of Dan Quayle and his attack on the sitcom Murphy Brown. Hawley wasn’t even old enough to drive.
America’s cultural drift was a theme he returned to again and again. As a high school senior, he wrote in the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader that a lawsuit to remove a religious symbol from a government emblem in a nearby community accelerated “the decline of America’s shared civic life.” When the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark McGwire broke baseball’s single-season home run record a few months later, Hawley hailed it as a glimmer of hope “for a nation increasingly concerned about society’s decay.”
Swap out the names and Hawley’s refrain has changed very little: Elite culture is at odds with a healthy society; something profound about America is threatened by something new. For a man who missed out on being a millennial by barely a year, he has sounded for most of his life like the world’s youngest boomer.
Hawley, of course, is not just a critic of legacy institutions; he is one of their great exports. He attended an elite private high school in Kansas City (debate team, commencement speaker) and moved on to Stanford. There he majored in history, formed a campus group in defense of the Western canon, and wrote columns for the Stanford Review, a conservative student newspaper founded by the tech billionaire Peter Thiel. (Familiar themes returned: “There exists a palpable sense that the nation suffers from a cultural malaise,” Hawley lamented in one column.)
Whatever quibbles he had with the university—such as its affirmative action program or commitment to disciplines such as gender studies—Hawley thrived in Palo Alto. David Kennedy, the acclaimed historian who was Hawley’s thesis adviser, told me a story that encapsulated the senator’s campus persona. During his junior year, as part of a regular roadshow in which students were brought to speak to alumni groups, Hawley visited Portland, Oregon, where he made such an impact with the alumni that at the end of the night, the host grabbed the microphone to single him out: “I especially want to thank Senator Hawley—I mean Joshua.”
Under the mentorship of Kennedy—who, despite their political differences, calls him “probably the single most capable undergraduate I taught in more than 40 years”—Hawley embarked on a frenzied study of the American presidency. It culminated in an honors thesis on Theodore Roosevelt, which later grew into a book-length intellectual biography. Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness is a revealing read today. This isn’t the gauzy pop history politicians love to pump out. It is studious, critical, and sometimes impenetrable. (The phrase “economic mugwumpery” appears half a dozen times.) And tucked inside is a decoder ring for Hawley’s politics.
In Hawley’s close read, Roosevelt identified a real crisis in American life at the turn of the century. Roosevelt “thought liberty required certain social and economic conditions,” he explained in a 2008 column for National Review, after the book was published. Roosevelt was “worried that the circumstances of the industrial age were undermining the sort of political economy on which democratic government depended.” It was an age of corporate power, of monopolies and trusts, in which profits and innovation were increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. This unrestricted corporatism was widening a divide between workers and the upper crust—who had grown “indolent, materialistic, and uninterested in the plight of their fellow citizens,” Hawley wrote. Roosevelt, like Mark McGwire, came onto the scene at a time when the “cultural consensus was fraying.”
Cultural drift, villainous elites, and corporate power—these are the themes that drive Hawley’s politics today. He has even embraced the throwback nomenclature; Biden, he warned in November, was in the pocket of “tech robber barons.” But Kennedy suggested another way of thinking about his protégé: The hero of the biography isn’t actually Roosevelt; it’s the racist progressive who defeated him in the 1912 election, Woodrow Wilson.
Hawley sours on the protagonist as his analysis goes on. In his criticism of Roosevelt’s moralizing, you can detect a whiff of Hawley’s attacks on “woke” politics today: Here was another coastal celebrity imposing his culture on everyone else. Hawley views the Rough Rider as a fundamentally flawed vehicle for the kind of change the times demanded—someone whose personal magnetism and recognition of the problems were stronger than his prescriptions for how to fix them. Roosevelt viewed the solution to concentrated economic power as concentrated political power—a new regulatory state and eventually a new welfare state. He was “statist, racist, and coercive,” Hawley writes.
Instead, Hawley gravitates toward Wilson, who grafted Roosevelt’s critique of corporate power onto a politics that was “more bottom-up than top-down,” in Kennedy’s words. Instead of empowering a permanent professional class to regulate monopolies, he would simply break them up (something Roosevelt, despite his reputation as a trust-buster, never did very much of). Wilson’s was anti–big business politics without the bureaucracy to go with it. For some people, anyway. For others, he ushered in a more oppressive relationship with government than they’d had before—as Hawley notes in passing, “sweeping black disenfranchisement and segregation measures were perhaps the seminal Southern reform of the Progressive Era.” But Wilson’s economic “New Freedom” and his embrace of Jim Crow and the Klan were part of the same story; it was a political movement whose power came from sharpening the definition of who government served.
From Stanford, Hawley continued his climb. He taught for a year at a posh all-boys school in London, then went to Yale for law school. Irina Manta, a classmate who is now a law school professor at Hofstra University, recalled that when they ran against each other for president of the campus Federalist Society—a position that offered an inside track to Supreme Court clerkships—Hawley won in part by mining the group’s listserv to find eligible voters who weren’t active members of the group. On a campus of future jurists and politicos, Hawley stood out for his ambition. “There was this vanity factor,” she told me. “People would say he would check himself out every time he saw his reflection in a window passing by.” (Hawley did not respond to questions for this article.)
When John Danforth, the recently retired Republican senator from Missouri, dropped by New Haven one year, Hawley adopted him as a mentor. And when John Roberts was questioned about his affiliation with the Federalist Society during his 2005 Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Hawley placed an op-ed in the Hartford Courant defending him from the insinuation that it was a “secret society of scary people.” He landed a clerkship with Roberts a few years later, where he met his wife, Erin, a fellow clerk, and graduated to a privileged perch in conservative legal circles.
Hawley’s professional life has been defined by almost continuous advancement, greased by a well-cultivated network of benefactors. The conservative pundit George Will—whom he’d befriended when he was in college—promoted Hawley’s Roosevelt book in his nationally syndicated column when it came out. Hawley had just returned to Missouri to teach law school, after a stint as a white-collar lawyer in DC and a litigator for social conservative causes—he represented Hobby Lobby in its successful push to overturn the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate—when Republicans recruited him to run for attorney general. He won that race with the help of $300,000 from fellow Stanford alum Thiel. Hawley had hardly settled into his office in Jefferson City before Danforth began coaxing him to run against McCaskill. He had barely gotten to the Senate before he was keynoting conferences about the future of conservatism and being floated as a future presidential candidate.
To his critics, his background belies his message—the Ivy League climber who rails against the professional class, the son of a banker who denounces “elites.” During Hawley’s 2016 campaign, he ran an ad featuring careerist white men literally scrambling up a ladder. These were typical politicians, he said, “using one office to get another.” McCaskill recycled the bit two years later in an ad targeting Hawley.
But to Hawley, his background is a kind of armor: He has traveled among these people and learned their ways, like a modern-day Ibn Battuta. “People say to me, ‘How can you say that? You went there!’” he told the conservative sports radio host Clay Travis in an interview last summer, referring to his ivory tower insults. “And my answer is, ‘Yeah, I did—so I know exactly what they think.’”
American politics, and the Republican Party in particular, is filled with youngish men in a hurry, many of whom seem like the kind of people who wrote op-eds in college about “cultural decline.” When they get to Washington and find themselves attempting to subdivide the same piece of real estate, they can start to blur together—distinguishable only by the cut of the barn jackets they wear in campaign ads. Was Rand Paul the one who wrote a book about raising kids? No, that was Ben Sasse. Was it Dan Crenshaw or Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio who wanted the GOP to become the party of Uber? (Trick question—it was all of them.)
With a hunger for Fox News hits and owning the libs, Hawley blended easily into the mix for most of his first two years in Washington. When the House impeached Trump in 2019 for attempting to extort the government of Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden and his son, Hawley accused his Democratic colleagues of attempting to “overturn the results of a democratic election.” He has bashed SportsCenter as “woke center” and demanded the NBA allow players to wear pro-police messages on their jerseys. Recently, he threatened to block a Pentagon funding bill if it included a provision renaming military bases that honor Confederate officers.
Like Trump, Hawley’s economic populism is selective. He complained about inequality while opposing a minimum wage hike in his home state. He supported Trump’s regressive tax law. Hawley went to court to repeal insurance protections for people with preexisting conditions. Even as he cultivated his populist streak, he was the kind of candidate who gets backed by Manhattan hedge fund managers, not primaried by them.
But Hawley does not want the Republican Party to be the party of Uber, at least; he wants to bring Silicon Valley to heel. He views the MAGA-friendly culture war he’s fighting and the economic message he’s pushing as related, and he thinks that, in the long term, wielding the power of the state against the tech overlords is how the Great American Middle can flourish.
Anti-monopoly politics has had a resurgence in recent years on the left, fueled by think tanks such as the Open Market Institute and politicians like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But in the power struggle for control of the Republican Party at the end of the Obama years, antagonism toward powerful corporations also seeped into the messaging of a certain kind of conservative. The party had long reveled in a business-friendly conservatism embodied by leaders like Romney and Paul Ryan. With Bannon whispering in his ear, Trump took a hatchet to that legacy during his first campaign, attacking the party “establishment” and its donors and positioning himself as a champion of workers against greedy “globalists.”
While one faction of the party leaned into the Silicon Valley language of innovation and disruption—think Jeb Bush modeling Apple products and name-checking Mark Zuckerberg—another saw Big Tech as a perfect boogeyman. It fit comfortably into the white supremacy that Trump and Bannon were pushing. These ultrapowerful corporations were undermining the country with their transnational politics and immigrant workforces, their offshoring of profits, and their cosmetically liberal values. The Trump campaign was about defining who was and wasn’t American; opposing these companies became a form of “nationalism.”
As Missouri attorney general and now as senator, Hawley has focused on tech giants. He argues the true innovation of companies like Google and Facebook is autoplay and doomscrolling—they’ve created an “addiction economy” that’s impossible to escape. The victims of this monopoly aren’t just competitors, but conservatives, whose views these monopolies censor and suppress. They’re too big, too strong, and too greedy. “You have to go back a century to find a set of corporations that exert as much power,” Hawley said in 2019.
Silicon Valley is the archetype of what Hawley is talking about when he talks about the “cosmopolitan elite.” The tech industry dictates how we live our lives, while accommodating the wishes of undemocratic regimes such as China’s. Their enablers—those “elites” you heard about—open the door to corporations that reject American values and force you to live by their own. And so the civic fabric frays. It is at once a criticism of economic concentration and a Moral Majority throwback; Zuckerberg is finishing what Murphy Brown started.
“Is there a little opportunism there? Sure, there is for every politician in America,” Saagar Enjeti, a conservative pundit who co-hosts Rising on Hill.TV, told me when we spoke last fall. “But I think he genuinely believes a lot of this stuff. I mean he wrote his thesis in college on Theodore Roosevelt and monopoly power. Donald Trump wasn’t around then.”
Heading into the fall, you could see Hawley’s game plan clearly, even if you didn’t buy that it would work. A Trump win would cement the GOP’s realignment, setting up a loyalist like himself for big things. (Trump even put him on his Supreme Court short list.) Or maybe Trump would lose, and Hawley could burnish his brand as a New Kind of Republican by attacking Biden from both the right (woke socialist!) and the left (corporate shill!). Sure, he’d be saddled with the toxic legacy of Trump, but who in his party wouldn’t? Last fall, Simon & Schuster handed him a book deal for a manifesto he’d titled The Tyranny of Big Tech. Everyone from the Atlantic to the Intercept heralded him as the possible future of “Trumpism after Trump.”
In December, Hawley pulled off what was until then his greatest stunt—joining Sen. Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist from Vermont, in demanding a new round of $1,200 checks for all Americans. They stood outside the Senate chamber in matching blue masks. Axios called them “the stimulus’ strangest Senate bedfellows.” It was good theater—Washington loves strange bedfellows almost as much as it loves conference keynotes—and smarter politics. It turns out Americans overwhelmingly support free money. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Trump backed the effort. When people talk about the potency of “economic nationalism” in the hands of someone more competent, this is the sweet spot. After Mitch McConnell killed the idea, Democrats running on the promise of even bigger checks won two Senate races in Georgia.
And then, just a few hours after that, Hawley cheered on a coup attempt.
He didn’t use those words, of course. What Hawley wanted, he said, was simply an “election integrity” commission to investigate what really happened in the states Trump claimed were stolen from him. Wink, wink. At a Senate hearing aimed at amplifying election conspiracies in December, not long after his alliance with Sanders had led a reporter to ask him if he was a “Bernie Bro,” Hawley recounted a recent meeting with a group of about 30 constituents. “Every single one of them, every one of them told me that they felt they had been disenfranchised—that their votes didn’t matter, that the election had been rigged,” he said. “These are normal, reasonable people. These are not crazy people. These are reasonable people.” They were, he emphasized again, “normal folks, living normal lives.”
The normal folks living normal lives did not simply come to believe this on their own. They believed this because they were listening to people like Hawley. A public official with such a deep grasp of the legal system might have assuaged their doubts. Instead, he legitimized them. Hawley made multiple Fox News appearances over the next few weeks, beating the same drum: Congress must intervene in the election because his voters had questions. Here was the Great American Middle again, deployed as a rhetorical bludgeon in defense of a power grab.
This is sort of the great reveal of Trump and Hawley’s conservative populist moment, though there have been many such reveals and many people pointing them out: If a political movement requires overturning the popular will to keep going, what kind of populism is it really? Beyond the bluster, the Trumpism that Hawley champions was always a minoritarian movement acting with the unearned confidence of a majoritarian one. Trump claimed a mandate after winning 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. He tried to seize power after losing to Joe Biden by 7 million.
Perhaps one reason Trump’s populism fell so far short is the number of people excluded by it exceeds the number of people wrapped in its embrace. Zuckerberg aside, most of the people Trump wielded the powers of the state against weren’t “elites”—they were just people. People who live in cities Trump called “disgusting,” people who didn’t want to be murdered during a traffic stop or watch their loved ones die of COVID, who didn’t want their communities defunded or their family members deported, or who wanted a living wage and access to health care that wouldn’t bankrupt them. To satisfy his people, Trump inflicted a never-ending series of punitive measures on a vast and diverse group across race and class. You could even think of them as the Great American Middle.
That’s not to say there wasn’t a pampered, jet-setting oligarchic class imposing their values on the nation—they were just doing it from within the White House. No one in modern politics was more obsessed with elite signaling than Trump. He talked about genes and IQ and Ivy League credentials while disparaging the educational backgrounds of his critics. He ascended in conservative politics by asking for Barack Obama’s Columbia transcripts. “Did she even go to college?” he said of Ocasio-Cortez. In the Trump era, populism meant that anyone who belonged to the right Palm Beach club got a seat at the table. His populist sage, Bannon, was hauled off in handcuffs on a Chinese billionaire’s yacht.
Hawley is fully capable of recognizing the flaws in a racist, vainglorious Manhattan legacy—I know this because I’ve read his book about Roosevelt. But he still went along with everything. Hawley’s challenge of the election results aimed to strip millions of people of their franchise in the most extreme rollback of American democracy since Jim Crow. McConnell—McConnell!—said it would have sent democracy into a “death spiral.” For all of his talk of a new multiracial working-class coalition, the election challenge was an authoritarian response to the voices of Black and Latino voters, couched in the legalese of the elite conservative academy. Federalist Society in the front, Four Seasons Total Landscaping in the back.
Membership in the Great American Middle is not just as simple as where you live or what you do for a living. When Mark and Patricia McCloskey stood on the front lawn of their Italianate mansion in a gated St. Louis community last summer and waved weapons at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, Hawley demanded a federal civil rights investigation—of the prosecutor who charged the couple with firearms violations. The wealthy white trial lawyers belong to the Great American Middle; the Black citizens they threatened do not. When an actual mob began gathering outside the Capitol to lay siege to an entire branch of government, Hawley didn’t tell them to disperse. He pumped his fist and asked for money.
The fallacy behind “Trumpism after Trump” is that there’s any such thing as after, because Trump himself can never be superseded. If Trumpism is anything, it’s a doctrine of entitlement and impunity, and of fealty from everyone else. It’s an assertion of who the country belongs to—white people, mostly—and a pledge to protect them from their fears with the force of the state. “You’re the real people,” Trump told his followers at the “Save America” rally before exhorting them to march on the Capitol. Seventy-four million people can’t be wrong because the 81 million who say otherwise are illegitimate. Hawley could never tell those people the truth. The lie is what binds them.
When the senators returned to their chambers on the evening of January 6, the tense mood of the morning had shifted to one of projected togetherness. Senators hardly ever fill their chambers, but it was filled now with colleagues, some of whom had lobbied Hawley hard to drop his stunt. Romney sat behind him, staring daggers at his back. But Hawley never looked any of them in the eye when his five minutes came. Instead, he spoke directly to the C-SPAN cameras. The spotlight he craved was finally his.
“Violence is not how you achieve change,” he said. “Violence is not how you achieve something better.” But if he opposed the insurrection’s methods, he still shared some of its aims. Half an hour later, he voted to have Arizona’s electoral votes thrown out. Then, for good measure, he voted against Pennsylvania’s too.
There were ominous signs for Hawley’s future in the immediate reactions to his gambit. He climbed the ladder so fast by impressing the right people, and those people in turn made it easier to impress more people. Privilege works like that. But many of those people have turned against him. Danforth said helping Hawley get elected was “the worst mistake I ever made in my life.” George Will denounced Hawley and Cruz as “dangerous domestic enemies.” (“Has there ever been such a high ratio of ambition to accomplishment?” he asked.) “I can only say that I would not have predicted this path for the uncommonly bright, idealistic Josh Hawley that I knew as a student,” Kennedy told me by email after the insurrection. The Joplin construction magnate who seeded Hawley’s first campaign with more than $2.8 million called for his censure. Hallmark, the Missouri-based greeting card company, asked for its donations back.
But there were inklings, too, that Hawley might be rewarded for his cynicism—or that at least his punishment from the electorate might fall well short of the crime. While the Senate rebellion fizzled, a clear majority of House Republicans voted to object to the certification of the election, including most of the caucus’ leadership. Few of them harbor presidential ambitions, but they too can read the tea leaves. They’ve concentrated so much party power in the hands of one man, and now, to put it in terms an economic populist might understand, Trumpism may be too big to fail.
The day after the riot, as the rebukes poured in, the extent of the violence in Washington came into clearer focus. Computers and documents had been stolen, tables overturned, windows smashed. Camera cords from a TV setup had been formed into a noose. Many of those who had stormed the building were anything but oppressed—no fewer than six Republican state legislators had taken part in the riot. Dozens of off-duty cops were among the mob. The attackers retreated to downtown hotels for nightcaps and left blood on the artwork and shit on the floor. In one sense, the aftermath was the very picture of a fraying civic fabric Hawley had spent most of his life warning about—of a political tradition that had become unmoored, radicalized on social media, and so constrained by its own cultlike political correctness it could not call a lie a lie.
But that Thursday afternoon, as two members of the Cabinet resigned in protest and the death toll continued to climb, as foreign governments issued the kind of statements about the uprising usually directed at dictatorial regimes, and Capitol staffers picked through the wreckage, the self-appointed tribune of the Great American Middle had found a new villain to pit his followers against: Simon & Schuster, which had just canceled his book deal.
He had been attacked, Hawley said, by a “woke mob.”
Top art source photos: Susan Walsh/Getty; Chris Graythen/Getty