At first it seemed to work. Hawley beat out poor Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who scrambled to assume his own role in this scheme, driven by a desire to outflank his Missouri colleague. Both were intoxicated by tantalizing visions of themselves inheriting the Trumpist mantle in advance of the 2024 GOP presidential primaries.
But then a mob stormed the Capitol to accomplish the same end — overturning the election by blocking the counting of Biden’s electors — and Hawley has been struggling to explain himself (as has Cruz) ever since.
Hawley just offered some new comments on this front. Asked by CNN reporter Manu Raju if he regretted his role in what happened, Hawley said he did not.
“I was representing my constituents,” Hawley claimed. “I did exactly what I said I was going to do. And I gave voice to my constituents, and I have condemned mob violence in all its forms.”
When the reporter pointed out to Hawley that the insurrectionists thought they could change the results while citing objections to the electors from Hawley and other Republicans, Hawley dismissed the point.
“I was very clear from the beginning that I was never attempting to overturn the election,” Hawley said.
It’s hard to capture how ludicrous this argument truly is. First, there is no meaningful sense in which Hawley’s efforts constituted “representing” his “constituents” or “giving voice” to them.
Before Jan. 6, Hawley tried to justify this notion by noting that “Missourians have been loud and clear that they do not believe this election is fair,” and that he merely planned to “raise their concerns in the forum allowed to members of Congress.”
But even by that point, all the claims made to sustain the idea that the election wasn’t “fair” had already been endlessly litigated and dismissed in dozens of courts. If Hawley’s constituents did “believe” the outcome wasn’t fair, they were wrong, and Hawley should have told them so.
By purporting to object on their behalf, Hawley’s actual impact was to keep them trapped in the delusion that their beliefs were grounded — and could still change the election’s outcome.
Indeed, this very development — that so many voters kept on believing lawmakers could alter the outcome — itself arguably played a major role in inspiring the insurrection. Just ask Hawley’s fellow Republican, Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, who put it this way:
The real cause of Wednesday’s unrest was that many officeholders and commentators misled millions of Americans to believe that the vote count was their final chance to have a say, and their last, best chance to fight for election integrity. Millions were lied to and told they had to fight at our Capitol or all would be lost. But Jan. 6 was merely ceremonial.
Hawley is now claiming he was “never attempting to overturn the election.” But that’s just clever parsing: Hawley and others who announced plans to object to Biden’s electors plainly helped persuade untold numbers of Americans that the election result might still be overturned (Hawley even subsequently voted to sustain the objections).
In fact, video of the attack shows unambiguously that many of those violently breaking into congressional chambers were animated by precisely this belief: that they could still prevail on lawmakers to change the result, only in their case with violent intimidation.
No matter how vociferously Hawley says he condemned the violence, he used his official stature to prop up the lies that inspired it. And, importantly, he did so for purely instrumental purposes — not to “represent” his constituents, but rather to cynically keep them trapped in a set of beliefs that he calculated would reward him politically.
As long as a large enough constituency still continued believing the election was stolen from Trump, Hawley would be remembered among them as the leading fighter on their behalf. The calculation here was obvious: He was making a bet on the radicalization of the post-Trump GOP.
Jamelle Bouie describes this radicalization as follows:
The Republican Party in 2021 is a party in near total thrall to its most radical elements, a party that in the main ... does not accept that it can lose elections and seeks to overturn or delegitimize the result when it does. ... It feeds lies to its supporters and uses those lies, as Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley did, to challenge the fundamental processes of our democracy.
Hawley thought he could harness these impulses. He is now stuck in the monumentally absurd position of condemning the violence without retracting or apologizing for his role in feeding the Big Lie that incited it. He lost control of the plot, and it’s not clear he can take control of it again.