Senator Josh Hawley, the great Missouri Mistake, has unleashed his shamelessness once again.
Never one to miss an opportunity for opportunism, Hawley has seized upon the impending demise of Donald Trump to turn the ugliest lie of 2020 into the prettiest wingnut talking point of 2024. In case you missed it, Hawley has already set out on a quest to become Trump 2.0 in the next presidential election.
Hawley has marked the territory around Trump's latest political waste matter: the preposterous claim that his rejection and ejection by the American people owe to election fraud. In the perverse view of Trumpworld — where Hawley keeps a vacation home — "fraud" is a euphemism for voting against Trump.
The lean-and-hungry Hawley — an extraordinarily cynical man — has pounced on the opportunity to exploit the rage of Trump's base by turning a lie into legislation. Well, he's saying he'll propose legislation, which is quite different from actually doing so. He probably will not, once TV cameras are trained on the next outrage.
"Sen. Hawley vows to introduce legislation protecting election integrity," proclaimed Hawley's Twitter account, tweeting out the headline of a Fox News article about his latest stunt. In another tweet, Hawley offered this: "If last 24 hrs have made anything clear, it's that we need new election integrity laws NOW. Ban ballot harvesting, guarantee poll watcher access, make ballot counting transparent."
Why yes, we should ban ballot harvesting, just like we should ban barreling a semi through a school playground. Actually, we already have banned both practices — presumably in all 50 states — but the fact that there's literally zero evidence of ballot harvesting in 2020 did not deter the junior senator from Missouri.
Hawley has smartly positioned himself as a proud champion of grievance over Trump's electoral defeat. In fact, he showed up to share furrowed brows with none other than Tucker Carlson, Fox News' white-male-grievance guru. The possibility they'll be competing against one another in 2024 didn't come up.
Instead, the two men spouted right-wing talking points about election fraud. As is customary in the red media silo today, one stupid thing — like an allegation that Democrats temporarily mistreated Republicans at one Philadelphia polling site — has morphed into evidence the apocalypse is here.
Since accepting defeat does not exist as an option for the narcissist-in-chief, it has fallen upon his minions to make it all about fraud. It is notable that few Republican politicians have volunteered for this mission, but Hawley — ever mindful of that Trump base for 2024 — was happy to sign on even though he might be facing off with a Trump in that race.
Mail-in voting is fraud. Sending out universal ballots is fraud. "Urban" voting is fraud. All ballots cast in "Democrat run" places are fraud. Counting ballots in states not loyal to Trump is fraud. Finishing a count before Trump has won is fraud. Reporting numbers unfavorable to Trump is fraud.
How absurd is all of this? Look no further than the Wall Street Journal, where Karl Rove, one of the slimiest operatives in American political history, held court on the very sort of nonsense that Hawley has peddled.
"There are suspicious partisans across the spectrum who believe widespread election fraud is possible," Rove wrote. "Some hanky-panky always goes on, and there are already reports of poll watchers in Philadelphia not being allowed to do their jobs. But stealing hundreds of thousands of votes would require a conspiracy on the scale of a James Bond movie. That isn't going to happen."
So, thanks for playing, Josh. Hawley will return soon enough to his day job, hammering away righteously against social media giants, a crusade that's justified in some respects except that Hawley vaporizes when phrases like "Russian meddling in our elections" are spoken out loud.
Like Trump, Josh Hawley's first, second and third priorities are taking care of Josh Hawley. Consider his political social distancing from his own party just a day after the election, as he retweeted a New York Post piece claiming Trump had fared better with Black voters than any Republican presidential candidates in 60 years.
"Republicans in Washington are going to have a very hard time processing this," Hawley tweeted. "But the future is clear: we must be a working-class party, not a Wall Street party."
That sort of down-home populism might sound more convincing had it not come from someone so passionate about the Trump tax cuts for Wall Street, which gave zilch to the working class. Hawley likely will have more empathy with men in suits than overalls when it's time to raise money for the next campaign.
Hawley's exploitation of Trump's apparent loss stood out in sharp contrast to two fellow Missouri senators, one present, one past. His current senior colleague, Senator Roy Blunt, at last mustered some of the political courage that many had hoped for much earlier in Trump's reign of terror.
In fairness to Blunt, he probably figured he couldn't survive in a state so beholden to Trump as long as the Orange One was in power, especially with those 88 million Twitter followers in tow. But give Blunt credit for what he finally said Friday, in an interview with CNN's Ted Barrett.
"Part of the obligation of leadership is you should always have in your mind, 'How do I leave?'" Blunt said. "Win or lose, both candidates should have been thinking about transition now for some time. And we will have a transition."
CNN's Dana Bash noted Blunt was the first top Republican senator to say such words, itself a sad commentary of the party and the times we live in.
Blunt also called out the Trump campaign for its pathetic inconsistency on counting ballots after Election Day. Trump's chants of "Stop the count!" where he was winning and "Count every vote!" where he was losing were a bit over the top.
"You can't stop the count in one state and decide you want the count to continue in another state. ... That's not how the system works," Blunt told reporters.
There have been countless moments in the past four years where more words like that — and less complicit silence — would have been welcomed from Blunt. But it is what it is.
Besides, Blunt's comments, however belated, were not nearly as ironic as the more forceful ones from former U.S. Senator Jack Danforth.
"By alleging widespread fraud, President Trump's purpose is to undermine Americans' belief in the legitimacy of the election and therefore in the foundation of our democracy," Danforth said in his saintliest St. Jack tone. "He is causing incalculable damage to our country."
Thanks, Senator, but while you're around, there's one other thing you could do: direct some of your indignation toward Hawley, the guy whose national political career you helped launch by endorsing him for U.S. Senate — snuffing the dreams of Representative Ann Wagner, no less — about fifteen minutes after Hawley became Missouri attorney general.
After all, Senator Danforth, your boy Josh Hawley hasn't actually turned out to be an enemy of fraud.
He is one.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).