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The New York Times

Josh Hawley Is ‘Not Going Anywhere.’ How Did He Get Here?

Most Republicans who spoke at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, avoided acknowledging the events of Jan. 6. But less than 30 seconds into his speech, Sen. Josh Hawley confronted them head on. That day, Hawley said, had underscored the “great crisis moment” in which Americans currently found themselves. That day, he explained, the mob had come for him. The “woke mob,” that is. In the weeks since, they had “tried to cancel me, censor me, expel me, shut me down.” To “stop me,” Hawley said, “from representing you.” Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times “And guess what?” he went on, his tempo building, the audience applauding: “I’m here today, I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not backing down.” The appeal from Missouri’s junior senator reflected what has become standard fare in a Republican Party still in thrall to Donald J. Trump. As Hawley’s audience seemed to agree, his amplification of the former president’s false claims of a stolen election was not incitement for the mob of rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan 6; it was a principled stand against the “radical left.” Yet to some of the senator’s earliest supporters, it was precisely for its ordinariness that the speech stood out, the latest reminder of the distance between the Josh Hawley they thought they had voted for and the Josh Hawley who now appeared regularly on Fox News. Against the backdrop of Trump’s GOP, the idea had been that Hawley was different. Sworn in at 39 years old, he ascended to the Senate in part by selling himself as an intellectual in a movement that increasingly seemed to shun intellect. Whereas Trump fired off brash tweets littered with random capitalizations and adverbs like “bigly,” Hawley published essays on subjects like medieval theology. Throughout his life, whether as a student at Stanford or a law professor in Missouri, Hawley had impressed people as “thoughtful” and “sophisticated,” a person of “depth.” And as a growing number of conservatives saw it, he also had the proper ideas. From the time he was a teenager, he had criticized the free-market allegiance at the center of Republican orthodoxy; when he arrived in Washington, he immediately launched into a crusade against Big Tech. The conservative think-tank class embraced him as someone who had the right vocabulary, the right suits and the right worldview to translate Trump’s vague populist instincts into a fresh blueprint for his party’s future — someone elite enough, in other words, to be entrusted with the banner of anti-elitism. Which is in part why, when Hawley became the first senator to announce that he would object to the certification of Joe Biden as president, many of his allies underwent a public mourning of sorts. They’d expected as much from, say, Ted Cruz — as one senior Senate aide put it, the Texas Republican, who had filibustered Obamacare while its namesake was still in office, had always been transparent about his motivations. But Hawley? To survey Hawley’s life is indeed to see a consistency in the broad strokes of his political cosmology. Yet interviews with more than 50 people close to Hawley cast light on what, in the haze of charm and first impressions, his admirers often seemed to miss: an attachment to the steady cadence of ascension, and a growing comfort with doing what might be necessary to maintain it. Hawley’s Stanford adviser, the historian David Kennedy, struggled to reconcile his memories with the now-infamous image of the senator, fist raised in solidarity with pro-Trump demonstrators shortly before they descended on the Capitol. “The Josh I knew was not an angry young person,” he recalled. “But when I see him now on television, he just always seems angry — really angry.” Kennedy acknowledged that Hawley was just one of many Republicans in the Trump era who had steeped their brand in “anger and resentment and grievance.” But for many of those once close to Hawley, that was the point: How did a man who seemed so special turn out to be just like everyone else? And what, they wondered, did Josh Hawley have to be so angry about? When Hawley arrived in Washington in January 2019 as Missouri’s junior senator, he positioned himself as the intellectual heir of Trumpism — the politician who could integrate the president’s populist instincts into a comprehensive ideology for the GOP. In his maiden speech, he summoned the lamentation of cultural erosion he’d been refining since high school, arguing that the “great American middle” had been overlooked by a “new, arrogant aristocracy.” For conservatives who felt Trump had identified uncomfortable truths about the party despite ultimately governing like a typical Republican, Hawley’s arrival was timely. That July, conservative writers and policy experts gathered at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington for the inaugural National Conservatism Conference, meant to map a departure from the corporate-class policies that for decades had defined conservatism. Hawley, who in his keynote speech decried the “cosmopolitan consensus,” was introduced as the fledgling movement’s “champion in the Senate.” He did not discourage whispers about 2024, and some younger Trump campaign aides, who saw him as the “refined” version of their boss, mused privately about working for him should he run. It wasn’t long before Donald Trump Jr. was inviting him to lunch at his father’s Washington hotel. Even so, he baffled his party’s leadership as he tried to derail the confirmation of some of Trump’s conservative judicial nominees, deeming their records on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage insufficiently pure. But it was Trump’s refusal to accept the election results that offered the first real stress test for the brand Hawley had labored to cultivate — whether it was possible to be both the darling of the conservative intelligentsia and the “fighter” the party’s base craved. He had reason to believe it was. He was comfortable paying “the price of admission,” as one Republican official put it, to a place in Trump’s GOP, in part because nothing in his short political career had suggested there would ever be a cost. Early on, few had blinked when he embraced the president during a visit to Missouri. He had courted far-right figures during his campaign, yet still received plum speaking slots at high-minded conferences. And so on Dec. 30, Josh Hawley became the first Senate Republican to announce his intent to challenge Biden’s congressional certification. Hawley’s team was adamant that he had not been motivated by a potential presidential bid in 2024, but among other things had been moved by a December video conference with 30 constituents who said they felt “disenfranchised” by Biden’s victory. “He knows the state well after two campaigns, and I think he knew that Missourians supported the president,” said James Harris, a longtime political adviser to Hawley. He tried to thread the needle as he always had, wrapping his objection not in fevered “STOP THE STEAL” tweets but in questions about the constitutionality of mail-in voting in Pennsylvania. And, had there been no violence, perhaps his gambit would have worked. But when Hawley and others lent their voices to Trump’s lie of rampant voter fraud, people listened. Hawley spent much of Jan. 6 hiding with his colleagues in a Senate committee room as Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. He sat hunched against the wall, eyes fixed on his phone, as Republicans and Democrats alike blamed him for the madness. Later that evening, when senators safely reconvened to finish certifying the election, Hawley forged ahead with his objection. The reckoning was swift. Simon & Schuster dropped plans to publish his book, “The Tyranny of Big Tech.” Major donors severed ties. Yet something else happened, too. Hawley saw a surge in small-dollar donations to his campaign, making January his best fundraising month since 2018. As Axios first reported, the $969,000 he amassed easily offset defections from corporate political action committees. Added to that was the applause of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which has since bundled more than $300,000 for Hawley. As his advisers saw it, the lessons of the Trump era — that success in today’s GOP means never having to say you’re sorry — were clear. And Josh Hawley was nothing if not a star student. In the weeks since, Hawley has vowed to sue the “woke mob” at Simon & Schuster for dropping his book. He’s written for The New York Post about “the muzzling of America.” He has appeared on Fox News to discuss said muzzling. And while he said shortly after the riot that he would not run for president in 2024, his advisers have continued to hype him as “one of the favorites” of a potential Republican primary field. Hawley tested his new cri de coeur on a live audience on Feb. 26, at the gathering of the conservative faithful in Orlando. “You know, on Jan. 6, I objected to the Electoral College certification,” he began. “Maybe you heard about it.” The room erupted. “I did,” he went on, “I stood up —” His words were drowned out by cheers. It had not been the mood of his speech. But as he paused to take in the standing ovation, Hawley seemed happy. This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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