Josh Hawley doesn’t look like a guy who wants to vandalise American democracy.
But what choice does a boyish US senator in a hurry have? Fortune favours the bold, after all, so what’s a little Constitutional mayhem in the name of ambition?
The US Senate is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to certify Joe Biden’s election as President.
Last week, Senator Hawley declared he would refuse to vote to certify, maintaining – falsely – that election irregularities hadn’t been fully investigated.
That announcement defied the wishes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has warned GOP senators that the time for indulging President Donald Trump’s failed election challenges is over.
So far, Senator Hawley – the youngest member of the Senate, if not the most obedient – is the only Senator refusing to certify. A dozen other GOP senators said they will make other, less drastic, vote protests.
Senator Hawley’s refusal to sanction the November election has managed to enrage almost everyone.
The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson called him “a threat to the Republic.” Even the GOP-friendly, Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal called it a “kamikaze mission.”
Another Murdoch mouthpiece, the New York Post, which has supported Mr Trump for years, proclaimed last week: “Give it up, Mr President – for your sake and the nation’s”.
Senator Hawley’s vote will not stop Mr Biden from taking office on January 20.
But it’s a procedural trigger that will force GOP senators to make public up-or-down votes on Mr Biden’s election, thus revealing fissures in Mr Trump’s support and allowing others, like Senator Hawley, to demonstrate their devotion.
Senator Hawley’s showboating has led some fellow GOP senators to upbraid their whippersnapper colleague.
“I think it’s awful. I am going to support my oath to the Constitution. That’s the loyalty test here,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski (a Republican from Alaska).
One might think these GOP elders are suddenly contrite about all the Trumpian trashing they ignored during the past four years. But it’s not the fate of the country they’re worried about: It’s about the GOP knife fight that’s about to break out.
“Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the President’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage,” Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse wrote in an open letter.
“But they’re wrong – and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions.”
Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.’’
– Ben Sasse
Ouch. Alas, Senator Sasse left out a rather important point: That he’s just as ambitious as his Missouri neighbour and also a likely candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
Only he’s staked out turf as a reasonable Republican, palatable to all those suburbanites who voted for Mr Biden.
But Senator Sasse knows he can’t get through a GOP primary race without some of Mr Trump’s base, and a vote this week certifying Mr Biden will be seen as an act of heresy to be replayed come 2024.
If this is how Senator Sasse is reacting now, imagine how nasty things will get in three years’ time.
For his part, Senator Hawley may be ravenously ambitious, and he might be as interesting as he is scary. He is an evangelical Christian educated at two citadels of secular elitism – Stanford University and Yale Law School.
He was a law clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Like many of his opponents on the left, he rails against Big Tech and wants government to crack down on its power.
And he demonstrated a streak of populism by teaming up with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont last month to push for $2000 payouts – instead of the measly $600 – in the most recent pandemic stimulus package passed by Congress.
Senator Hawley knows that Trumpism without Mr Trump is just a grab bag of grievance, nostalgia and fear. Any combination of populism and nativism could pass, as long as its standard bearer has the support of the base.
What Senator Hawley lacks in narcissism (and compared to Mr Trump, who doesn’t lack?) he could make up for with monkish fealty to the patron saint once he leaves the stage.
Why not be the first to preach the gospel?
Senator Hawley’s grandstanding shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the hysteria it’s generating should be put in perspective.
In the weeks before November 3, the press was full of apocalyptic visions of electoral collapse. They were overblown.
To look now at the fresh face of Josh Hawley and see the fifth horseman is laughable.
When the dust settles on Wednesday, he should be damned for reaching into Mr Trump’s filthy tool kit to further his ambitions.
But I’m pretty certain he won’t be the last.
Larry Hackett is the former editor-in-chief of People magazine, and a contributor to the US morning television news program Good Morning America