Missouri voters rewarded Josh Hawley for running a completely generic and thoroughly dishonest campaign by electing him to the U.S. Senate Tuesday. They overlooked the hypocrisy involved in claiming that incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill had become a creature of Washington — even as Hawley himself turned the management of his attorney general’s office over to D.C. consultants. For that matter, Missourians weren’t so fussy as to insist that Hawley actually show up and do the job he’d been elected and paid to do.
Yet unlikely as it seems right now, we have to hope Hawley will decide to be more serious about this new post, which he won by tying himself to President Donald Trump.
David Baker, longtime pastor of the First Baptist Church of Belton, said on Monday that “the Kavanaugh thing was huge” in winning Trump-supporting voters over to Hawley, too. “People in our church rebelled against what they saw.” Allegations that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanugh had sexually assaulted a woman when they were both in high school struck them as “a willingness to destroy somebody’s character. If Josh wins, it will be because of that.”
Hawley, a Stanford and Yale Law graduate who clerked for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., repeatedly characterized the allegations as a smear that McCaskill was part of, though that was not the case. He also emphasized the false claim that McCaskill, who was endorsed by border agents, supports “open borders” and legislation that “would give a free pass to any illegal immigrant who brings a child to the border.”
At 38, Hawley’s friends see him as the future of the Republican Party. But his next promotion will require some accomplishments beyond minding his consultants, or so we hope.
To serve Missourians, he’ll have to show some independence from the president he’s until now claimed to agree with in all regards. He’ll have to stand up for the Missouri farmers and manufacturers who are being hurt by tariffs.
And he’ll have to make good on his promise to protect those with pre-existing medical conditions, though he was one of 20 attorneys general to file suit against the Affordable Care Act.
The Hawley we met last year as a new attorney general seemed fully capable of independent thought, and though we never saw that guy again once the campaign started, now that it’s over, we’d like to.
McCaskill, who served two terms, was always going to have a tough race in this Trump-loving state, though she did show independence, breaking from her party with some regularity. Some in her own party thought she was far too moderate, both in office and in this campaign, even trying to distance herself from “crazy Democrats” in an ad and interviews. But running further to the left would only have caused her different problems.
In a gracious concession speech, she thanked Missourians for letting her serve them and thanked even the voters who fired her: “This state drives me crazy, but I love every corner of it.”
Though correctly seen as one lucky politician — until she wasn’t, of course — McCaskill also made her own luck, both by outworking the competition and by maneuvering to get the weakest possible opponent in 2012. (Because she saw Republican Todd Akin as the weakest of that year’s field, she spent $2 million on primary-season ads that described him as “too conservative.”) Hawley was never going to be another Akin, who lost badly after saying that women rarely become pregnant as a result of “legitimate rape.”
And as smart and well, supple as he is, Hawley could still surprise us by being willing to serve all Missourians, and to learn from his predecessor’s willingness to work across the aisle.