What if Donald Trump loses in November, but the Republicans come back in 2024 with a smarter, slicker, savvier version of Trump?
Meet Josh Hawley, the junior Republican senator from Missouri. Hawley has grabbed plenty of headlines during the coronavirus crisis, from his push to have the federal government “cover 80 percent of wages for workers at any U.S. business,” to his call for a block on “federal relief funds to universities with massive endowments” such as Harvard and Stanford.
“Hawley reflects a post-Trump populism within the Republican Party that seems likely to outlast the 45th president,” observed Vox’s Emily Stewart in a wide-ranging profile of the senator in October of last year. For Stewart, the telegenic, 39-year-old Republican has “positioned himself as a defender of the middle of the country against the supposed ‘elite’ class.”
The Atlantic’s Emma Green described him in November as “a potential lead architect of Trumpism after Trump,” whose speeches “are bracingly defiant of Republican orthodoxy” on income inequality, big corporations, and labor unions.
Perhaps Hawley’s biggest cheerleader on the left is Matt Stoller, who has claimed that the Republican senator is “right about a lot of things” and even suggested that Hawley “may have the populist economic lane to himself.”
This is nonsense. Yes, Hawley is no Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. And, yes, “Trumpism without Trump” is a good line. But, in fact, most of the available evidence suggests that Hawley, like Trump, is a fraud and an opportunist.
Anti-elitist? Hawley may constantly rail against “elites” and talk up his own “small-town” background, as he did in a much-discussed keynote address to the National Conservatism conference last July, but he himself is the son of a banker and a graduate of two of this country’s most elite universities, Stanford and Yale. Following Stanford, he went to teach at one of England’s most prestigious private schools, St. Paul’s; following Yale, he went to work for one of the world’s biggest law firms, Hogan Lovells. He met his wife while clerking for Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. Josh is no regular Joe.
Anti-tech crusader? The Missouri senator, as Stoller and others point out, has joined with progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren to lambast big tech for its “business model of addiction.” Warren, however, goes after Facebook and Google because she wants to curb their financial and monopoly power; Hawley goes after them not just because of their economic clout but also because, like every other elected Republican, he thinks they’re mean to conservatives. In 2019, the GOP senator introduced a deeply flawed bill to challenge their alleged political bias and even stopped by at Trump’s ridiculous White House Social Media Summit to address an audience of far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists. (For the record, there is zero empirical evidence of an anti-conservative bias on the major social media platforms.)
Most of the available evidence suggests that Hawley, like Trump, is a fraud and an opportunist.
Economic populist? His boosters on the left point to legislation that Hawley has introduced to try and tackle the electronic gaming industry, drug pricing, and college debt. But how do such (worthy) bills stack up against the rest of Hawley’s policies and positions? Wouldn’t you expect an economic populist to back higher wages and stronger labor unions? While running for the Senate, Hawley opposed ballot measures to raise the minimum wage for Missouri workers and to get rid of the state’s “right-to-work” legislation. (Thankfully, a majority of Missourians disagreed with him on both measures!)
Wouldn’t you expect an economic populist to try and guarantee health care for low-paid workers? As Missouri’s attorney general, Hawley joined a lawsuit brought by 20 GOP-led states aimed at overturning the Affordable Care Act, including its protections for people with preexisting conditions. He then campaigned for his Senate seat while claiming that he would protect such people.
Wouldn’t you expect an economic populist to challenge America’s oligarchy? While running for the Senate, Hawley took donations from right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers, Peter Thiel, and Bernie Marcus, while enthusiastically endorsing Trump’s tax cuts for the superrich as “the right way forward.”
Hawley is a faux-populist. Nevertheless, he is a threat to the left because, like far-right ethno-nationalists in Europe such as Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orbán, he spins his reactionary welfare chauvinism as concern for the working poor. Hawley advocates for deep cuts to legal immigration and then — like Stephen Miller, Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon, and others on the U.S. far right — pretends they will help the “great American middle.” (They won’t.) This proud evangelical Christian and culture warrior — who has a rather alarming and theocratic vision for the United States — even backed Trump’s horrific “zero tolerance” policy at the border in 2018, which led to the kidnapping and caging of migrant kids.
There is nothing moderate or nuanced about Hawley’s — as opposed to Trump’s — brand of conservative nationalism. Last July, Jewish groups denounced him for his obsession with “cosmopolitan elites” — a longstanding anti-Semitic dog whistle — in his National Conservatism speech. His keynote also referenced “cosmopolitan” Jewish academics by name, as well as “money changing on Wall Street.” Yet three months later, the Missouri senator slammed a Jewish journalist — Greg Sargent of the Washington Post — as a “smug, rich liberal elitist.”
So don’t be fooled, progressives. Josh Hawley is not your friend. He may be polished and persuasive, well-read and well-groomed, but he remains your standard right-wing wolf in the clothing of a populist sheep.
Remember: Trumpism without Trump is still Trumpism.