When Josh Hawley ran for Missouri attorney general in 2016, he had almost no name recognition and knew little about the world of conservative politics he was about to enter.

A polished and impeccably trained lawyer, he proved to be a quick study. But somewhere along the way to becoming a U.S. senator in 2019 and making a national name for himself, Hawley made a fateful turn: He decided to become Donald Trump 2.0 — a demagogue who cries victimhood when opposed, who lies about the law, and who exaggerates his accomplishments for political gain.

“He’s a tragedy,” said one of his disappointed early admirers. “But I can’t feel sorry for him because he knows better.”

Does he? The familiar, viral photo of the junior senator raising his fist to protesters at the U.S. Capitol like an undaunted gladiator was both ridiculous and frightening. Hawley then went inside the Senate and pushed to have election results overturned. Not even then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — and 90-odd other senators — could go along with that foolishness.

Early on Jan. 6, The Post's Kate Woodsome saw signs of violence hours before thousands of former president Donald Trump loyalists besieged the Capitol. (Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

It was a remarkably fast fall from grace: In a matter of just a few hours, a bright and promising star saw his fortunes completely fade. Members of both parties stopped working with him. Money from big donors dried up in a day or so. An up-and-comer once viewed by many conservatives as presidential material in 2024 traded integrity for the favors of a populist mob.

Since the riot in January, matters only got worse. When Simon & Schuster pulled the plug on a book deal about the ills of big tech firms, for instance, Hawley claimed the Manhattan publishing house was trying to censor him, citing the First Amendment. He must think his supporters are short on brain cells; Hawley well knows that the decision to kill his contract is any private company’s prerogative and had nothing to do with the government trying to muzzle him.

Generally speaking, Americans don’t much like people who try to undermine democracy or overthrow elections. Hawley made his bed and can’t complain now that no one wants to crawl between the sheets with him.

Regnery, a much more conservative publishing house than Simon & Schuster, quickly announced that it would publish Hawley’s book, which one can at least say demonstrates the free market at work. But that’s not enough for Hawley, who now charges Simon & Schuster with hypocrisy for its decision to publish Hunter Biden’s book about addiction, “Beautiful Things,” but not his own, “The Tyranny of Big Tech.” Republicans may have their problems with the president’s surviving son, but I don’t recall Hunter Biden ever trying to nullify an election that was essentially affirmed by 61 failed lawsuits and certified by the U.S. Congress.

In short, the very talented, Stanford-and-Yale-educated Hawley is acting like a big baby. By lying about alleged election fraud — and whining when he’s handed his hat by his Senate colleagues — he has given Democrats cover for ignoring Republicans and, most important, hindered what was shaping up to be bipartisan progress on his signature issue: online child abuse. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) have now both said they have no further interest in working with Hawley on that issue. Some of the online protection groups are also refusing to work further with the disgraced duo of Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who also objected to the election results.

The dictionary defines “demagogue” as a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument. It is impossible to know whether Hawley now regrets his fisted salute to the insurrectionists on that fateful morning. Or whether he has had doubts about signing on so completely with the “Stop the Steal” crowd. My guess is no on both. Josh Hawley made his choice and cast his lot. He bound himself — and tightly — to the insurrection.

Establishment Republicans who still adhere to and believe deeply in the rule of law have no choice but to distance themselves from this new, destructive brand of maverick. It’s a shame that someone of Hawley’s talents thought he could fly so close to the sun. Blinded by his own ambition, he may have burned his future.

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