If you thought a rebuke from his mentor was going to sway U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, you haven’t been paying attention.
On Wednesday, in a desperate attempt to lick the boots of his master, President Donald Trump, Hawley had planned to object to the certification of the election in which Americans overwhelmingly chose Joe Biden as the next president and Kamala Harris as the next vice president.
Then chaos erupted. The U.S. Capitol was placed on lockdown, the Senate evacuated, as rioters urged on by Trump stormed the Capitol and clashed with police.
Hawley, the junior senator from Missouri, didn’t get his chance to give a pandering speech. His plan had been widely panned by stalwart members of Hawley’s own party before it happened, as an act of sedition by an overly ambitious Republican trying to put himself in contention for the 2024 presidential race.
Columnist Michael Gerson called Hawley’s planned objection to the electoral results “a threat to the republic.”
Columnist George Will wrote that Hawley and his cohorts, like Sen. Ted Cruz, are the country’s “most dangerous domestic enemies.”
Both columnists are conservative Republicans of long standing.
So is former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, an ordained Episcopal minister, and the father of the modern Republican Party in Missouri, or at least the version of it that existed before Hawley and former Gov. Eric Greitens and similar charlatans came into power. Earlier this week, Danforth offered a similar sermon:
“Lending credence to Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen is a highly destructive attack on our constitutional government,” Danforth said in a written statement. “It is the opposite of conservative; it is radical.”
Danforth first met Hawley at a dinner at Yale when the younger man was in law school there. Danforth is a graduate of the Yale Divinity School and the law school. A mutual friend introduced Danforth to Hawley, and the elder statesman was smitten. He became his mentor. He unleashed Hawley first on Missouri, and then on the nation.
So Danforth’s rebuke didn’t appear to me to be quite as stinging as some might find it. In fact, it reminded me of a different one he issued about seven years ago. Around that time, Danforth was giving high-minded speeches about the need for more civility in politics, and working on his next book, a follow-up to his important “Faith and Politics,” in which he lamented the religious right’s hold on the Republican Party. In effect, Hawley is that which Danforth predicted would happen, a theocrat wrapped in GOP clothing.
In 2013, the Missouri GOP already was trending in Hawley’s direction, before anybody even knew his name. Ed Martin, who had disgraced himself as the chief of staff for former Gov. Matt Blunt by hiding personal and political emails from the public, had given rebirth to his political career and been elected as the chairman of the state party. This, after a failed, and overtly racist, run for attorney general.
Martin, in his role as party chairman, issued a fiery email to state Republicans, praising Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, for his fiery filibuster opposing President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan. In the missive, Martin blasted Senate Republican stalwarts, John McCain and Lindsey Graham. (This was before Graham’s bizarre and complete conversion to Trumpism).
Danforth was aghast, writing to Martin that he “could not be more dismayed by the content and threatening tone” of his letter. Martin’s time atop the state’s GOP apparatus didn’t last long, mostly because he was really bad at the job. But he continued to fail upward, later becoming a Trump sycophant for a while on CNN.
Danforth’s rebuke of Martin, while on target, was too little, too late. Martin didn’t become an extremist overnight. He was one when he worked for Blunt. He was even more of one when he ran for attorney general, and Danforth financially supported him.
Hawley didn’t become a pandering, contradictory clown overnight.
He was created in a Rube Goldberg political machine in Missouri in which the GOP rewards extremism, over the moderation of the center for which Danforth pines. Birtherism begat Charlottesville begat sedition. Martin begat Greitens who begat Hawley who begat an entire House delegation (minus the sudden conversion to reality of Rep. Ann Wagner), who, like Hawley, now believe (or are willing to pretend that they believe) that Trump still won the election that he most definitely lost.
The result of Hawley’s plan to challenge the election results played out before the nation on live television on Wednesday, as viewers saw what would have been called an attempted coup if it had been happening in another country.
Over the past decade or so, that’s what Hawley et al have accomplished in the Show-Me State. The truth is that the Missouri GOP isn’t Danforth’s party anymore. It’s the party of Josh Hawley, who has set fire to the U.S. Constitution, stormed the halls of power and damaged the delicate balance of power that holds together the United States.
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