The circus might be closed due to the pandemic, but that fellow up there walking the high wire looks strangely familiar. Why, it’s Senator Roy Blunt.
What a rotten couple of months Blunt has on his hands. Blunt’s own political career seems secure enough for the moment, but he faces twin challenges that would keep up any Republican at night, even if he is sleeping on one of creepy Mike Lindell’s pillows.
First and foremost, there’s the small matter of Donald Trump potentially blowing the Senate for Republicans in Georgia with his psychotic, narcissistic raging against Republican leaders and ballot integrity there. The one-word change from “majority” to “minority” in the Senate would rock Blunt’s world far beyond the aggravation of having to order new stationery and business cards.
Then there’s Blunt’s responsibility as Senate Rules Committee chairman to preside over one of the most challenging presidential inaugurations ever. His Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies is going to need to smoke some joints: Imagine trying to plan all that pomp and circumstance while navigating the dangers presented by a raging, uncaring and dangerous invisible enemy. And there’s also the pandemic to worry about.
Blunt’s position is starkly different than that of lean-and-hungry Senator Josh Hawley, who likely could not care less about control of the Senate. That’s not certain, but Hawley’s presidential brand for 2024 —all-consuming to him — is best served by positioning himself as an outside flamethrower, and minority status wouldn’t hurt the cause. His challenge is to garner nonstop right-wing media coverage as a loyal Trump lieutenant while hoping and praying that no one named Trump will matter in four years.
It goes without saying that both Blunt and Hawley understand — like every one of their Senate colleagues — that Trump lost the election beyond all doubt. But Blunt apparently believes that he needs to go without saying that for fear of triggering Trump. Hawley will say anything that works as red meat, anytime, anywhere, for any reason or no reason.
History won’t be kind to either of these men for having enabled Trump’s toxicity over the past four years. But fixing history is on neither’s “things to do” list. The task at hand is ushering out the mad king without doing further harm to your political party if you’re Blunt and without missing a golden opportunity to inherit Trump’s mantle of grievances if you’re Hawley.
What an interesting study in contrasts we get to watch in Missouri. While Hawley gets to blather incessantly into every unguarded microphone — the battier the better — Blunt has to walk that tightrope.
"You know the president wasn't defeated by huge numbers. In fact, he may not have been defeated at all — we've gained seats in the House," Blunt told CNN on November 10.
Blunt, who apparently hasn’t revisited that assessment since, was pushing back strongly against a virtually treasonous statement uttered just two days earlier by, well, Blunt:
"It's time for the president's lawyers to present the facts, and then it's time for those facts to speak for themselves," Blunt had said November 8 in an interview on ABC's This Week. Blunt had added that there are always some changes after an election, but it "seems unlikely that any changes could be big enough to make a difference."
ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos raised the uncomfortable point that Blunt once held the same job as many of the beleaguered state officeholders getting kneecapped by Trump.
"You're a former (state) secretary of state. I spoke with secretaries of state, Democrat and Republican state officials over the last several days, they said they've seen no widespread evidence of any kind of fraud at all," Stephanopoulos said. "Joe Biden has won this election. Why can't you acknowledge it?" Well, just because.
"This is a close election, and we need to acknowledge that," Blunt responded, in part, after earlier referring to the states' official canvassing procedures. "It's a process. There's a process here that we need to go through. I think both Vice President Biden and President Trump benefit from that process."
Excuse the Biden transition team if it fails to fully appreciate the benefit of the process as it takes the helm of a runaway freight train. Trump needs to benefit from the process by taking some meds or slipping into a straitjacket.
Blunt showed political skill in delivering the “benefit” line without breaking character. That was pretty good, although not as immortal as what he had told the Washington Post in August about the central issue of the campaign:
“Were you better off in January of this year than you were three years ago or four years ago?” Blunt asked. “Almost every American, if they look at that question, would say we absolutely were better off.”
But that was in August, and the election was in November. Why would people be wondering about how they’d felt in January? Turns out at least 80 million of them were not, especially those not buying Blunt’s implied suggestion that the nation ignore Trump’s epic failure to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hawley, on the other hand, has to love the tortured process to which Blunt referred. That is, at least as long as he gets to make profound proclamations such as “the media do not get to determine who the president is.” Aw, c’mon, Josh, how about just this once?
Hawley has actually acknowledged Trump’s demise by ignoring it. In tone and substance, Hawley celebrates Trumpism on his social media, but a tweet last week inadvertently accepted the inevitability of a Biden administration by condemning any and all Cabinet picks he might make.
“What a group of corporatists and war enthusiasts — and #BigTech sellouts,” Hawley whined on Twitter after listing all of the names of Biden appointees thus far.
Now there’s a fine serving of raw meat made possible only by Dear Leader’s exit stage right. Normal Republicans, such that any remain, refrained from tweeting their obvious confusion: “Did someone say corporatism is bad?”
But that’s the beauty of being Josh Hawley in these twisted times. This guy is such an unmitigated fraud that just about any nonsense he throws against the wall will stick. Veteran Republican strategist Stuart Stevens summed up Hawley well in reacting to the tweet with one of his own:
“His political consultants told @HawleyMO that he had to be a ‘populist’ to run for president. Watching this prep school-Stanford-St Paul’s-Yale Law school hot house plant trying to sound authentic is like watching a fish try to ride a bicycle.”
Stevens has that right, but let’s not forget Hawley’s audience consists of people who can be convinced that cyclist fish are all that stand between America and the rule of Satan-worshiping pedophiles from the Deep State. At the end of the day, Hawley cares only about Hawley — sound familiar? — and that means perpetuating Trumpism without Trump.
As for Blunt, he’s fixated on holding the Senate with two cartoonishly corrupt senators in Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, all the while placating Trump, who just called Georgia’s conservative Republican secretary of state “an enemy of the people.” And he’s got to oversee a not-too-eventful inauguration of President Joe Biden.
All without losing his balance.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at email@example.com 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).