In less than two weeks, President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in as our 46th commander-in-chief, and it will look like finally, all of our worst fears for the last four years regarding a would-be despot seizing power in the Oval Office to fulfill his authoritarian ambitions will be a thing of the past!
Sorry guys! False alarm! The last guy we had in the Oval Office – ehhhh, you know, he didn’t really have the wits or the shrewdness to actually be taken seriously as some kind of dictator that posed an existential threat to our democracy!
No, no, this time, it’s the Senator from Missouri you gotta keep your eye on in the years to come! He’s gonna implement actual fascism if he tries to run for anything else, so you better suck it up and vote for Kamala Harris in 2024 even though she’s promising to ask pine nut farmers in Afghanistan what gender pronoun they prefer before launching drone strikes at them.
By now I’m sure many of you are familiar with Missouri Senator Josh Hawley making the rounds throughout the news cycle for the last month, first for making an adamant pitch in the Senate alongside Senator Bernie Sanders for $600, and then $1,200, and finally $2,000 stimulus checks to be provided as cash relief to Americans that are hurting financially as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on. After that, Hawley was more infamously regarded by the news cycle for issuing an objection to the Electoral College’s certification of Biden as the next President.
These two instances it would seem are rather emblematic of Hawley’s double-sided political nature – one side aims at challenging Republican orthodoxy and deficit hawkishness through populist politics, and the other side seeks to ride the waves of Trumpism, and play to Trump’s base through a more mealy-mouthed means of propping up movements like “Stop the Steal”, in spite of the fact that Hawley’s objection has no actual possibility of staving off Biden’s inauguration (in fact, the events of Jan. 6th certainly invite the notion of making an exception to speed up the inauguration’s timetable).
Though Hawley personally hasn’t been outright yet with intentions to run for the presidency in 2024, many have speculated that Hawley’s claims in the past that the Republican Party is now actually becoming or has become a multi-racial and multi-ethnic working class party, and his candor in shaming Congress for being more keen on offering billions of dollars in relief to giant corporations rather than bailing out day-to-day Americans, suggest a latent ambition from Hawley to follow in the footsteps of Trump; that is to say, make an appeal to areas of rural America that the Democratic Party seems in some ways to have largely left behind.
The only quandary here though is that Josh Hawley is quite a ways away from being an authentic pro-worker, anti-corporatist politician, rhetoric aside.
For one to effectively make the case that they are a fighter who will govern and legislate on behalf of day-to-day Americans, it might come in handy for said politician to be sure they are free of any forms of large-scale influence that could create a potential conflict of interest. Yes, I’m talking about none other than big money donors and super PACs. If Hawley were to have skeletons in the closet, then corrupting special interest groups make up a friggin’ necropolis in his.
When Hawley ran for the Senate in 2018, he received $10,000 from the Great America Committee PAC, over $4 million from billionaire David Humphreys, and $4,000 from the Koch Industries PAC. Google critic and San Francisco billionaire Peter Thiel was also reported to have maxed out donations to Hawley’s senate campaign.
The Great America Committee PAC is run in fact by Nick Ayers and Michael Adams, two figures closely intertwined with the Republican establishment who also lobbied through the PAC to greatly shape and influence the government of Missouri, including through then-Governor Eric Greitens in the form of $13 million donated to Greitens’ campaign; shortly before Hawley joined the U.S. Senate, he, as Missouri’s Attorney General, dropped an investigation into Greitens’ involvement in Ayers’ and Adams’ “dark money” machinations.
Megadonor Humphreys meanwhile was the subject of a pay-to-play scandal back in 2017 yet Hawley also declined, oddly enough, to investigate Humphreys. Humphreys also pushed strongly for passage of a right-to-work law – a law which would crush labor unions’ ability to deliver union agreements to employers – in Missouri when he had campaigned back in 2016 for the slot of Attorney General in the state, and soon enough, Hawley made his own support for the law loud and clear. (The law was later defeated in a referendum in 2018.)
And four days before Hawley began investigating Google out of Missouri, he received contributions to his campaign from Peter Thiel. Thiel just happened to have a seat on Facebook’s board of directors, and also founded Palantir, a Google competitor.
At the same time, Hawley has been outspoken in fact of being against increasing the minimum wage in Missouri, in spite of such a notion having mainstream support. He touted Trump’s tax breaks in 2017 – the largest upward transfer of wealth in the country at least up until the CARES Act in 2020 – as “the right way forward”.
And yet, in spite of all of Hawley’s rhetoric about antitrust and an overhaul of tech policy and a reforming of the infamous Section 230, he seemed largely unwilling to follow through last week on what should have been to him a gift-wrapped Christmas present (albeit, the one that arrives one week after the holiday probably because of the short-staffed nature of the post offices that the GOP didn’t seem keen on helping to fund last year).
After Hawley and Sanders made their push for $2,000 stimulus checks to be delivered to Americans in the form of cash relief, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell instead decided to hold up the proposal in the form of a bluff by introducing unrelated proposals in addition to the checks, one of them being a repeal of Section 230, undoubtedly a measure to try and force the Democrats to drop the demand for the checks. And yet strangely enough, there were crickets from Hawley, who indicated no overt intention to accept McConnell’s proposal, and thus, no jubilation in getting the much-craved “golden goose” that’s become such a centerpiece of tech policy rhetoric.
Hawley has taken an undeniable, albeit incremental, ground swell of support for the GOP that revealed itself in increased demographic turnouts for the 2020 election, and dressed it up as a clear sign that future instances of populist rhetoric from his mouth alone will be enough to affirm the Republican Party as an explicit party of the working class. However, the influence of big money donors should be called into question at the very least in Hawley’s case because it seems to be compromising his authenticity.
I’ve indicated in the past that I believe regardless, Hawley stands a reasonable chance of being able to tap into and retain a large portion of Trump’s base, if Hawley ever decided to take it upon himself in the future to run for the presidency. But all of this of course is essentially moot if Hawley never dips his toes in the water for a presidential run anyway in the next cycle. Recall that when Trump considered Hawley for the Supreme Court, Hawley declined the offer, instead insisting that he would only fight for the Missourians that elected him in the Senate. And his blatant undermining in the faith and integrity of Presidential elections recently has already led some to point the finger at Hawley, among others, for supposedly inciting the chaos at the capitol on January 6th; this conflation could almost certainly come back to bite Hawley in the ass down the road.
And if Hawley does choose to run, it’s possible voters in rural America won’t care extensively about Hawley’s ties to the corporate world. They didn’t care about Trump’s ties after all. Some such as Richard Hanania, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, have concluded that the culture war was just as much a determinative factor as economic hardships in recent elections for Republican voter turnout.
If that’s the case, in a theoretical run for the presidency, Hawley may not even need to commit entirely to a show of good faith that he is on the side of working class Americans, such as in the form of a grassroots campaign. Instead, he may only need to continue to fan the flames of the immigration debate, issue warnings about the looming threat of socialism, or decry whatever other demon that crawled its way out of Willy Wonka’s boat tunnel that the right will try to cast the left as in 2024.
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