Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley won’t be in Springfield on Wednesday when President Donald Trump poses for photos with other top Republicans during his first visit to the state as president.
But his absence in Springfield when Trump delivers a speech on tax policy won’t go unnoticed.
That’s both because of Hawley’s status as a top Republican recruit to take on U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the incumbent Democrat, in the 2018 Senate race and because Trump’s visit comes days after Hawley’s most vocal backer excoriated the president.
Former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth, a Republican who represented Missouri for two decades, called on his fellow Republicans to disavow Trump in an opinion piece published by The Washington Post and other news outlets the night before Trump’s Missouri trip was announced.
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“To my fellow Republicans: We cannot allow Donald Trump to redefine the Republican Party,” Danforth wrote. “That is what he is doing, as long as we give the impression by our silence that his words are our words and his actions are our actions. We cannot allow that impression to go unchallenged.”
Danforth published these words after months of leading an effort to recruit Hawley into the Senate race. Danforth told The Star Friday that Republicans officials should avoid being seen with Trump during his visit, but emphasized that he hadn’t spoken to Hawley or any current office holders on that subject.
Hawley, who is on a weeklong family vacation, has avoided responding to Danforth’s piece even as many conservative voices in the state have called on him to condemn Danforth’s criticism of Trump. The attorney general’s only social media posts in the days since the controversy began have been photos of his children on vacation.
Hawley’s spokesman, Scott Paradise, would not comment on Danforth but emphasized that the attorney general supports the president.
Ed Martin, the former chair of the Missouri Republican Party, said on Twitter that if Hawley can’t denounce Danforth’s criticism of Trump, then he shouldn’t run against McCaskill.
Other prominent conservatives in the state also have sounded off on Hawley.
“Danforth is the main supporter of Josh Hawley, which makes it almost close to impossible that I could ever get behind a Hawley candidacy for Senate with John Danforth around,” conservative talk show host Jamie Allman said Monday on his St. Louis-based radio show.
Speaking more generally, Allman promised to “keep an eye” on which Republican officials skipped Trump’s visit after noting Hawley’s family vacation.
“If you’re a Republican and you avoid being there, we’re taking your name,” he said. “That’s all. And you better have a really good excuse for not being there for the president of the United States, the Republican president of the United States, if you’re a Republican office holder in the state of Missouri.”
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, a Ballwin Republican who decided against a run for Senate earlier this year, told Allman the following day that she had postponed previously scheduled events to ensure her attendance when asked about Hawley.
“I’m going to be there from the moment he steps off that plane,” Wagner said.
Trump has not spoken publicly about Hawley’s potential candidacy, but he took time to highlight the Senate race this past weekend on Twitter by criticizing McCaskill and promising that “Republican will win S!”
Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, made a phone call to Hawley to encourage him to run after a very public campaign from Danforth and other prominent Republicans to draw him into the race, which could determine control of the U.S. Senate.
“Our president keeps his mind on many things throughout the day. And Claire McCaskill is obviously on his mind,” Austin Stukins, the executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said Tuesday when asked about Trump’s interest in the Missouri race.
Trump won Missouri by 19 points in November. Hawley was elected to the attorney general’s office by a similarly wide margin of 17 points.