Josh Hawley

The villain, and America is the victim

The competition to be the next Trump is stiff - but we have a clear winner

Josh Hawley is the villain, and America is the victim


As time goes on, Donald Trump’s future is coming to resemble the life cycle of the apocryphal Hollywood starlet. It starts with a producer calling out “Get me Donald Trump,” proceeds to “get me a Donald Trump,” and ends with “Who’s Donald Trump?”

We’ve entered the second stage, awaiting the third, which may take place at a minimum security prison in upstate New York. The contest to be “a Donald Trump” is starting early and wide open with the logical frontrunner, Mike Pence, rendered a dead man because he didn’t use the power he didn’t have to keep Joe Biden out of the White House.

No one has done more to move into that open lane or tied himself as tightly to Trump’s mast as Josh Hawley, the junior senator from Missouri. A poll taken at CPAC suggests that’s the way to go. Trump won 55 percent of the presidential poll—a poll that President Rand Paul won three times before, so take that for what it’s worth—but it also found only 68 per cent actually want Trump to run again, and 95 percent would be happy with someone like him.

Hawley wants to be that guy. He was the only senator other than Ted Cruz who stepped up to be an official objector to the final vote count in order to stop it. Cruz’s move was no surprise—he so lusts to be the center of attention he would volunteer to be the corpse at a funeral. Hawley, a graduate of Yale Law, was groomed for greatness by John Danforth, a lion in the Senate of old and an Episcopal minister to boot.

Hawley became Missouri attorney general at age 38 in 2017 and moved almost immediately to depose (successfully) two-term Senator Claire McCaskill in 2018. He minded his manners as a backbencher until he decided to get a jump-start on who could show most devotion to Trump, despite 60 court cases and Danforth telling him not to.

That’s what ambition does to a whiz kid whose fist pump on his way into the Capitol that fateful day was seen around the world. Someday, he may be seen for the traitor he is, a fact partly obscured by the smooth face and blazing confidence, the high education and polemical skills: gifts that also mean he knows he’s lying, unlike many of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who believed a president when he told them the election was stolen from him.

Cruz sold his soul too, but he’s damaged goods, having already failed at the presidential thing. He sealed his sorry demise when he fled his state, freezing during a cold streak without Republican free-market heat or running water, for a sunny clime and warm suite at the Ritz Carlton in Cancun, blaming his daughters when caught out at the airport.

He made a lame joke about it at CPAC that landed with a thud and, like Andrew Cuomo, he doesn’t have a bank of goodwill to fall back on when trouble hits. What Lindsey Graham once said of him is truer than ever: “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

To keep up the good work, Hawley is against everything Biden’s for. If he’s called Biden president, I haven’t heard it. He’s the only senator to have voted against every one of President Biden’s Cabinet nominees, save one.

There are plenty of others competing with Hawley to be Trump’s heir, from Nikki Haley to a dozen senators, to governors trying to be the most Trumpian in dealing irresponsibly with COVID. Florida’s Ron DeSantis and South Dakota’s Kristi Noem were in a duel to see who could be most lax until Texas Gov. Greg Abbott came back for a second kick at the cat.

He’s gone and totally reopened his state, declaring it a mask-free zone, even as he’s overseen a slow rollout of vaccinations, with 244 different entities scheduling them, or not. Variants are blowing into the state like tumbleweed.

Could it be that Abbott thinks enough people didn’t die when the state was left without heat or water? Back in May when there were 5,000 cases a day, Abbott declared a partial reopening while keeping the mask mandate. In short order there was a 300-percent surge in hospitalizations that almost shut down the system. Now, with 7,500 daily cases, he’s reopening again only this time abandoning masks.

That’s stiff competition for villainy, but Hawley will surely rise to the occasion, although the bar to stay on Trump’s goes ever higher. At the Senate Judiciary Committee FBI oversight hearing this week, the challenge was to get Director Christopher Wray to concede there were Democratic actors masquerading as marauding Visigoths who rampaged outside the doors of the very hearing room they were sitting in. Wray refused.

Like someone on the wrong side of a one-way mirror at police headquarters, Hawley posed questions boiling down to whether law enforcement might, or maybe, or could, get access to who, hypothetically, someone might have called on the day of the siege. He was only asking for a friend. If Hawley talked to anyone who invaded the building where he’s privileged to serve, he’s not going to like the answer.

Like all those running, Hawley is only concerned with the base, essential, although not sufficient, to win, but the largest identifiable group in a party divided. Even Mitch McConnell has reverted to coddling Trump. His impeachment-trial-closing moment of conscience holding Trump morally responsible for Jan. 6 has given way to promising to support the ex-president should he be the nominee in 2024.

My bet is Hawley will no more sit at the Resolute Desk than Aaron Burr or Benedict Arnold did. That doesn’t mean he’ll lose his seat. If doing the right thing were the coin of the realm, half the Republican caucus would be defeated.

And there’s a cautionary tale for Hawley and all the others who would be Trump. Look closely at the celebrated golden statue of Trump in Orlando and see less a graven image with its hero sheathed in a suit, tie, and complimentary head of flowing hair than a prophecy, with his other half sporting baggie shorts and flip flops, the leisure wear of a Florida retiree whose star has faded.

All it needs now to announce the end of this improbable chapter is a red de-MAGA’d hat emblazoned with the query “Who’s Donald Trump?”

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