Josh Hawley is the clear choice for Missouri Republicans in U.S. Senate primary

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley File photo

Republican voters in Missouri have four options in the primary for U.S. Senate. While each candidate hews strongly to the state’s deep-red GOP convictions, Attorney General Josh Hawley is the clear choice to advance to the general election.

During his year and a half in office, Hawley has demonstrated a willingness to tackle important issues that affect everyday Missourians. He filed an aggressive lawsuit against Endo Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma last year, seeking hundreds of millions in damages and civil penalties for the companies’ alleged role in feeding the opioid addiction and overdose epidemics that plague our communities. Hawley’s position mirrors that of his likely opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has made the opioid fight a signature issue.

Hawley has also laudably taken on Facebook and Google, launching separate probes into whether the tech behemoths have collected, analyzed and sold users’ data inappropriately.

What’s a business-friendly Republican doing staring down some of the biggest corporate powerhouses on the planet? “I’m all for the free market, but I’m not for monopoly, and I’m not for fraud,” he told The Star editorial board. That’s welcome pushback on the impulses of anarchy and cronyism that too often masquerade as conservative principle.

Further, the attorney general deserves praise for pursuing possible open-records violations and felony theft of a veterans charity donor list by disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, a fellow Republican.

Yet while it may be tempting to credit Hawley with tipping the GOP applecart, it’s worth remembering that Greitens, the combative onetime Democrat, was always the real party interloper. Hawley’s action was a blow in favor of the establishment.

There’s not much overtly distinguishing the four Republican primary candidates on policy, with their nearly unanimous embrace of the now-victorious wing of the party loyal to President Donald Trump. Hawley enthusiastically touts his much-coveted presidential endorsement — and voters are right to question whether Hawley would maintain the resolve he showed with Greitens if elected to the nation’s most deliberative legislative body, especially when the eye of history may soon be focused sharply on Congress.

Libertarian-turned-Republican Austin Petersen makes a persuasive case that the state GOP has sidelined his platform of radical freedom by effectively backing Hawley before primary ballots have even been cast. But while Petersen’s Second Amendment absolutism and situational Trump love may play well with voters, many of his dogmatic ideologies — his calls to eliminate compulsory K-12 education and the Food and Drug Administration, for example — are best left to theoretical discussions in academia, or ignored altogether.

The remaining two candidates have run marginal and cartoonish campaigns. Sebastian Gorka endorsee Tony Monetti has staked his case largely on anger at RINOs, or “Republicans In Name Only” — particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Missouri GOP that ousted Greitens. Sarah Palin is on Team Monetti, telling supporters in Kansas City this summer that the retired Air Force pilot is “the stealth bomber himself” who would fly to Washington and “blow up the swamp.”

Is-he-or-isn’t-he-for-real candidate Courtland Sykes has often sounded like a parody of AM talk radio, as he denounced feminists’ “nasty, snake-filled heads” and the “floozy attacks” on failed Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore.

For better or for worse, there’s only one Donald Trump. Senate candidates can never replicate him. Hawley has elevated much of his rhetoric above his GOP competitors’ hyperbole — though try to keep your eyes from rolling when he knocks McCaskill as “partisan.”

Hawley is a keen intellect and a talented debater. He should get the GOP nod. But here’s hoping that he — and McCaskill — will rise above the tenor of the times and steer the discussion to governmental philosophy, not who’s “elite” or more in touch with the common man. (McCaskill has no serious challengers in the Democratic primary, so The Star is not making an endorsement in that contest.)

Missourians deserve a Senate race centered on ideas and action, not tired marketing slogans.