Hawley’s effort to reap political rewards from Jan. 6 scampers off


Given everything that’s happened since then, it’s easy to forget the role that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) played in validating Donald Trump’s effort to undermine the results of the 2020 election.

In the weeks after states submitted their electoral vote rolls to Washington on Dec. 14 of that year, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to prevent his caucus from join an effort to turn away some of these voters. On the House side, there was a quick race to show loyalty to Trump by announcing plans to oppose the slates presented. But contested voters needed both a House member and a Senate member to have a chance at success, and McConnell didn’t want that to happen.

It didn’t work. And the first senator to challenge McConnell was the junior senator from Missouri.

Hawley was making a calculated political move that, for a year and a half, he has managed to keep afloat. But a clip that aired during a House select committee hearing on Thursday evening could have made that stomping ground impossible.

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On December 30, 2020, Hawley’s office released a statement announcing that it would oppose the electors fielded by Pennsylvania. He tried to rationalize it by blaming tech companies, a favorite target of his, and raising objections to how votes were cast in the Keystone State, an issue that had already been settled by the state’s courts.

The plan was obvious. Hawley, an ambitious young politician, wanted to be the man who delivered Trump’s base. Other senators knew it, too: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), equally ambitious if less youthful, quickly devised a plan to offer his own slightly different objection. The race was on.

When he entered the Capitol on January 6, 2021, Hawley delivered that infamous fist pump to the crowd outside, some eventual rioters among them. After the riot, there was much criticism of Hawley’s gesture of encouragement, which served as a reminder of his role in encouraging the rioters to think the electoral vote count was about to be derailed. After keeping a low profile for a bit, Hawley eventually began selling a mug featuring the fist pump, and continued to do so even after the photo’s copyright holder threatened to sue.

And why not? He seemed to have weathered the immediate negative effects of his involvement in the riots. Republican views on the day’s events had shifted, and loyalty to Trump remained valuable currency. Even on the evening of January 6th itself, Hawley was still waiting for the eventuality to arrive. While at least one member of the Senate Republican caucus decided not to oppose the featured electors, Hawley did not. He still objected. Even after Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) yelled at him, “You caused this!” Hawley, standing in front of a furious Romney — opposed the electoral list.

That seems to have been the bet. Hawley bet it would all work out politically, that he could brush off concerns like Romney’s in the short term and be a grassroots hero to stand firm for years to come. And until, oh, around 9pm on Thursday night, it looked like it might work.

Committee Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) then directed the audience’s attention to Hawley’s actions inside the Capitol that day.

He began by showing the photo of the fist bomb, noting that a Capitol Police officer had expressed frustration that he had done it, as he was “doing it in a safe space, protected by officers and barriers.” Then Lúria inserted the dagger.

“Later that day, Senator Hawley fled, after those protesters he helped incite stormed the Capitol,” he said. “See for yourself.”

Video of Hawley walking down a hallway was played on a large screen at the front of the courtroom. Then it was broadcast again, this time in slow motion.

The hearing was theoretically based on showing that Trump had chosen not to act in response to the rioters that day. That little aside about Hawley obviously had nothing to do with it. It certainly didn’t help the committee’s case against Trump. At least in part this was an overt effort to embarrass Hawley, contrasting his proud display of loyalty to the mutineers early on by becoming an elected official rather than suddenly and unexpectedly finding himself at the mercy of the mutineers.

However, there is one sense in which the release of Hawley’s video dovetails with the committee’s efforts. The committee wants to collect a cost for those who tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election. They want, albeit unofficially, to make it impossible for Trump to be re-elected as president. It’s safe to assume they understand the narrow path Hawley has been trying to walk and understood that airing that footage would in no way help him succeed. The senator loves to look tough. That video looked anything but.

Hawley wants the visual of his involvement on Jan. 6 to be that fist pump: the guy willing to fight for Trump. Instead, now it’s that slow-motion video: the guy who thought he was cleverly tapping Trump’s base for his own purposes, only to see things suddenly play out in a dramatically different way.

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