When Senator Josh Hawley was pictured pumping his fist in support of rioters in front of the US Capitol before they eventually breached the barricades and took part in a riot, he was seen as politically radioactive. This came after the Missouri Freshman Senator had announced he would object to the certification of election results from Pennsylvania.
Simon & Schuster cancelled his book about technology companies. He was condemned by his former political mentor John Danforth, himself a former Republican Senator from Missouri who had recruited him to run in 2018, who said that supporting Mr Hawley “was the worst mistake I ever made in my life.” David Humphreys, a GOP money man from the Show-Me State, cut him off financially.
By most measures, he and fellow objector senator Ted Cruz of Texas, were seen as political dead men walking.
That didn’t happen.
Rather, Mr Hawley found another publisher and his book, The Tyranny of Big Tech, became a New York Times bestseller. Between the beginning of January of last year and the end of September, his campaign account raised $7.m, which is more than other marquee members of the two chambers of Congress, such as Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Crotez and Marjorie Taylor Greene in the House. What’s more, Mr Hawley has two more years before he is up for reelection in Missouri, a state once considered a bellwether that has become solidly Republican.
“I think what has really attracted more and more Missourians to him, whether they are just general voters, grassroots activists, Republican donors, is the more they see, learn about him, they are going, ‘I’m very glad he is there,’” James Harris, a Republican consultant who has known Mr Hawley for years, told The Independent.
Mr Harris noted how Mr Hawley had been a hero for social conservatives from some time, going back to his membership of the legal team that successfully argued before the US Supreme Court that Hobby Lobby and other private corporations owned by people with strong religious beliefs should not be obliged to provide health coverage that includes contraception.
In the same way, Mr Harris said Mr Hawley gave voice to Republicans who had objections to the election.
“And a lot of people probably in the United States Senate did not like Donald J Trump. So they [were] like, kind of ‘Good riddance.’ You know, Joe Biden had been part of our club, if you will,” he said. “And Senator Hawley brought up a valid constitutional question regarding the Pennsylvania election results at a time when no one else would.”
This week, during the anniversary of 6 January, Mr Hawley, who was unable to speak to The Independent, wrote an op-ed for Fox News lambasting Democrats, whom he accused of bringing “a year of fear”.
“Let me say again that those who committed crimes on January 6 should be prosecuted, just as those who rioted and burned and looted in cities around the nation in the name of ‘social justice’ should be as well,” he wrote , equating the riot at the Capitol with Black Lives Matter protests. “In the months that followed, they targeted conservatives, silenced parents, and suppressed speech by ordinary people online, all in the name of public safety.”
His polling has also proved to be steady. In the months after 6 January, a St. Louis University/YouGov poll showed that Mr Hawley’s approval rating jumped by 3.6 percentage points in 2021 from the year before to 52 per cent.
Kyle Plotkin, Mr Hawley’s former chief of staff, who still serves as an adviser to him, said Washington got too ahead of its skis in declaring Mr Hawley’s career dead.
“And it is in conflict with how the rest of America, or in this case, how Missouri feels about a certain issue or a certain elected official and this is a prime example of that contrast,” he told The Independent. “The DC group-think, the DC press bubble, if you will, was quick to make a judgment at the beginning of last year. And the opposite has turned out to be true.”
In the same respect, few Democrats seem willing to permanently ostracise Mr Hawley and he’s worked with some former presidential candidates. He teamed up with senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota on technology issues on a piece of legislation, as well as senator Cory Booker, Senate minority whip Dick Durbin, and Mark Warner of Virginia. Similarly, he’s worked with senator Kirsten Gillibrand on improving the military’s response to sexual assault.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, who served as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, said that while he joined the complaint filed with the Senate Ethics Committee, it had not affected his ability to work with either Mr Hawley or Mr Cruz.
“I thought that was serious, but I also thought that I didn’t say anyone should resign, I didn’t do anything like that, because I thought that the Ethics Committee being strictly 3 and 3 would be the fairest venue to air it out,” he said, referencing the fact the committee has three Democrats and three Republicans.
“But my feeling about senators is that every state sends two. If I want anyone else to respect the two that Virginia sent, I’ve got to respect the two that every other state sends, so it hasn’t affected my working relationship.”
Mr Plotkin said they had “lots of conversations” with Democrats who were interested in working.
“And I think that’s because what Josh is, is taking maybe a different approach than some more establishment members,” he added. “And I think that can make for important partnerships with Democrats.”
There is evidence that Mr Hawley’s brand of politics might have some pull with Republican voters. A new NPR/Ipsos poll showed that two-thirds of Republicans surveyed believed that voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election, despite no evidence of that being the case.
Mr Hawley, the youngest member of the Republican caucus, has long been seen as a potential contender for the GOP nomination for president. Mr Harris said that he thinks he could potentially go far.
“He’s one of the best communicators that I have seen, and he can talk to the Trump base,” he said. “I mean, every element of the Republican Party, he can talk to quite well.”
At the same time, a Reuters/Ipsos poll that asked who Republicans want to be the GOP nominee in 2024 found that Mr Hawley is only polling at one per cent, compared to 54 per cent who wanted Mr Trump to run. Mr Hawley also polled below Mr Cruz, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, and former vice president Mike Pence.
Mr Plotkin, Mr Hawley’s adviser, said that the Senator was focused on his job in Missouri.
For Mr Hawley’s part, he seems wholly unwilling to change course and, if anything, is retrenching, as judged by the kicker in his Fox News op-ed.
“2022 can be a new chapter if we take a stand against those who would use their power to terrorize and intimidate,” he said. “This year, don’t give into fear. Don’t be shouted down. Don’t be intimidated. This year, let’s live instead by this maxim: We will not be afraid, because we are Americans.”
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