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Josh Hawley: The Making of an Insurrectionist

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. raises his fist toward a crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump gathered outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Francis Chung / E&E News and Politico via AP Images

Josh Hawley is a young politician. He just turned 41, the youngest Senator in Washington. His life has been defined by privilege and achievement. Son of a banker, he attended a private boys’ Catholic prep school in Kansas City, Missouri.

He graduated from Stanford University as a Phi Beta Kappa, then from Yale Law School, where was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. He clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Returning to Missouri, he taught constitutional law at the University of Missouri Law School, and was elected Attorney General of Missouri.

His politics have been consistently Christian conservative. At Yale, he was president of the Federalist Society chapter. After clerking, he worked for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Hawley sold his soul to the insurrectionists, hoping they would propel him to the top. It appears now that they will drag him to the bottom.

He wrote briefs defending Hobby Lobby’s successful effort in the Supreme Court to gain an exemption from paying for employees’ birth control medications. Hawley was a faculty member of the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, which is funded by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization. He has argued that the obedience “of our nation” must be to “the Lordship of Christ”.

Hawley would agree with former Attorney General William Barr that “free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people”, meaning a conservative evangelistic Christian people. He joined many other Republican attorneys general in 2018 trying to get the Supreme Court to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.

Only after that became an issue in his run for the Senate that year, did he state that he supported protection for people with pre-existing conditions.

Hawley was on a fast track to power, but it wasn’t fast enough for him.

Less than a year after being elected Attorney General, during which he condemned “ladder-climbing politicians”, he began his campaign for the Senate. In 2018, he beat the Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill. Almost immediately, he wanted more, putting himself forward as a candidate for President in 2024. If Josh Hawley does run in 2024, he would be trying to be the second youngest person ever to be elected president.

As Senator, Hawley voted in favor of Trump’s preferences 86% of the time. He recently voted against the National Defense Authorization Act and against overriding Trump’s veto. Like the other more experienced Republicans who are talking already about running for President in 2024, Ted Cruz and Mike Pompeo, Hawley decided that he needed to do more to get the full support of Trump’s most fervent supporters.

That meant not just going along with Trump’s refusal to acknowledge his defeat on November 3, but leading the charge to overturn the election.

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He was the first Senator to announce his opposition to confirming Joe Biden’s electoral victory. On January 6, he demonstrated his approval of the growing crowds at the Capitol with waves, thumbs up, and a raised fist that has become an iconic image of irresponsible demogoguery. Two hours later, the Capitol was in lockdown.

So Hawley changed his tune, tweeting “Thank you to the brave law enforcement officials who have put their lives on the line. The violence must end, those who attacked police and broke the law must be prosecuted, and Congress must get back to work and finish its job.” But he did not change his idea of what that job was.

In the middle of the Capitol chaos, his campaign sent out a fund-raising text: “Hi, I’m Josh Hawley. I am leading the charge to fight for free and fair elections.” Even after the rampaging insurrectionists had destroyed offices and killed a policeman, he objected to certifying the votes in swing states that Biden won.

Josh Hawley did not start the lies about the 2020 election. Trump began that treasonous narrative in 2016 and escalated his rhetoric long before November. Hawley and countless other Republicans allowed those lies to circulate and build momentum among Republican voters for years.

After November 3, most Congressional Republican lawmakers fanned those embers of revolt by refusing to recognize the Democratic victory, and 106 members of Congress signed on to the big lie by supporting the 17 Republican attorneys general who sued in the Supreme Court to overturn the election in swing states.

Hawley’s raised fist joined the Republican Attorneys General Association, whose robocalls the day before the insurrection called on “patriots” to “stop the steal”. The list of Republicans who directly incited the Capitol mob keeps growing, but not as fast as the list of Republicans who now insist they share no blame.

Hawley’s magical political ascent has now suffered from his unbounded ambition to secure the allegiance of the Trump base. Simon and Schuster decided it won’t publish his book. His mentor, former Missouri Senator and “dean of Missouri Republican politics” Jack Danforth, says that supporting Hawley was “the worst mistake I ever made in my life.”

The PAC representing Hallmark Cards demanded that Hawley return their donations. The Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial boards called for his resignation. The Hawley 2024 T-shirts probably won’t sell.


Hawley only approves of some political protests. After a small group of people chanted on the sidewalk outside his home in Virginia, holding candles and signs reading, “Protect democracy”, Hawley went to on Twitter to denounce “Antifa scumbags” who “threatened my wife and newborn daughter”. What Hawley called “leftwing violence”, local police called “peaceful”. His comments about the Capitol mob use none of that colorful language.

A child of the elite, propelled to ever greater success at elite institutions, Hawley proclaimed himself in 2019 the champion of “the great American middle”. He criticized the “politics of elite ambition” (but not his own), policies that “favored the wealthy and the well-educated” (but not the Trump tax cuts), and the “leadership class” (but not himself).

At the end, he urged a “a better understanding of liberty”: “It’s the ability to have a say, to have a stake, and together, to set the course of our own history.”

steve hochstadt

Hawley tried to put himself at the front of the great American fringe, the most radical opponents of allowing the majority to have a say, to set the course of America’s history. He sold his soul to the insurrectionists, hoping they would propel him to the top. It appears now that they will drag him to the bottom.

Steve Hochstadt