In the early stages of his campaign for the U.S. Senate, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley faced criticism from some in his party over a sense that he was trying to distance himself from President Donald Trump.
No one is saying that anymore.
Hawley shared the stage with the president Friday night in Springfield, rallying thousands of Trump supporters on behalf of his campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
He’s become increasingly devoted to the president in recent months, and Trump has enthusiastically reciprocated.
“We are finally putting America first,” Trump told an ebullient crowd Friday night. “It’s all gonna start with Josh Hawley. We love Josh. He’s a star.”
The stakes of the November midterm elections, Trump added, couldn’t be more clear.
“Get out in 2018,” he said, “because you’re voting for me.”
The president heaped praise on Hawley and scorn on McCaskill, a top target for Republicans seeking to expand the party’s slim 51-49 edge in the Senate.
Trump won Missouri by 18 percentage points in 2016, a fact Hawley mentions regularly on the campaign trail.
“Have you noticed something about our president?” Hawley asked the crowd Friday night. “When he makes a promise, he keeps it. When he makes a commitment, he delivers. I tell you what, he’s delivering big for the state of Missouri and the United States of America.”
Hawley skipped Trump’s first presidential visit to the state— which was also to Springfield— for a family vacation.
But the president has returned to the state four times since then to endorse, raise money and rally for Hawley. And since gaining Trump’s endorsement last year, Hawley has become more and more faithful to the president in his public statements and on social media.
He’s had aTrump tweet attacking McCaskill pinned to his Twitter profile since June.
When Trump faced an onslaught of criticism in the early summer because of the separation of families at the southern border, Hawley remained steadfast in his support of the administration even as many other prominent Republicans in the region offered criticism.
Asked in July if he felt unable to criticize the president, Hawley quickly replied, “No, no.” But when asked for a specific example of when he’s disagreed with Trump, Hawley pivoted to a critique on Congress.
“An example I would list is spending,” Hawley said. “I think that you take the omnibus spending bill from this past March, I think he really should have vetoed that bill. It’s really Congress’ fault for putting him in this position and tying his hands… I mean, Congress has got to crack down and I think the president needs to hold their feet the fire.”
In Springfield on Friday night, Hawley’s commitment appeared to be paying dividends among Trump’s supporters.
TJ Aaron, 22, a country music singer from Branson who said he is working on a new song called “Trump Train,” saw the president at a campaign rally in Nashville, where he was working. He said he doesn’t know much about Hawley but trusts Trump’s endorsement.
“If (Trump) chooses him and stands by him then I support him,” he said.
Brad Conley, 39, who works construction in Springfield, was attending his first Trump rally. He also said he doesn’t know much about Hawley, “but if Trump supports him that’s a good endorsement. I love Trump.”
Marsha Poindexter, who has been a self-employed insurance agent for 20 years in Springfield, said she supports Hawley but didn’t name a specific reason beyond, “He’s one of us.”
After a minute she says that she can’t stand McCaskill.
The initial questions about Hawley’s commitment to Trump stemmed largely from his political mentor, former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth.
Danforth, an early Hawley supporter and the public face of the effort to recruit him to the Senate race, urged his fellow Republicans to disassociate themselves from Trump in a blistering op-ed published by The Washington Post last year.
“We cannot allow Donald Trump to redefine the Republican Party,” Danforth wrote at the time. “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 said this month that he was not surprised by Hawley’s embrace of Trump, saying the president has high approval rating among GOP voters.
“Even when I wrote that piece that was very, very critical of Trump and saying that Republicans should distance themselves from (Trump)… I said I would not expect people in electoral politics to do it,” said Danforth, who represented Missouri from 1976 to 1995.
“The last time I ran for anything was 30 years ago,” Danforth said. “Politics is so different now from what it was.”