Sen. Josh Hawley’s embrace of conservative ideology began at the age of 13 when his parents gave him a book about political conservatism for Christmas, according to The Washington Post’s Michael Kranish.
Hawley would later go into politics himself, rapidly rising within the GOP until landing in the U.S. Senate. But on his way there — and particularly with his actions leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection — the Missouri Republican would alienate allies and betray his benefactors.
As a U.S. senator, Hawley had led the charge to object to the 2020 election on the false premise that some states failed to follow the law, bolstering the baseless claims from President Donald Trump that the election was stolen and should be overturned. Hawley had said the ascent of Joe Biden to the presidency “depends” on what would happen on Jan. 6, the day of a pro forma congressional vote to affirm the election. He had been photographed that day pumping his fist in the air as some Trump supporters were gathering on the grounds outside the U.S. Capitol.
Later, as rioters ransacked the building and several senators huddled in a secure room, fearing for their lives and trying to persuade their pro-Trump colleagues to withdraw their efforts to undermine democracy, Hawley remained combative in pushing the very falsehoods that had helped stoke the violence.
At 41, the freshman senator had become a face of a movement built on the lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
Now, former friends and supporters — a middle school classmate, a law school professor, a conservative columnist who promoted him and the Republican stalwart who recruited him to run for the Senate — say they are shocked that he has become a different politician than they expected, describing themselves as victims of political deception and personal betrayal.
Kranish collected sentiments from a number of individuals who have come to regret assisting Hawley’s rise or lament that the man he is today is not the person they once believed him to be.
Former Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO)
“I feel very responsible for Josh Hawley being in the Senate. I feel terrible about it,” said former senator John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), who recently called his encouragement of Hawley’s Senate run the “greatest mistake of my life.” He added, “Josh Hawley played a central role in creating if not the darkest day in American history, one of the darkest days in American history.”
Stanford History Professor David Kennedy
In an interview, Kennedy said Hawley was one of the best students he had ever taught, but, like many others who helped enable Hawley’s rise, he now has deep regrets, saying he is “quite disturbed” about the senator’s role on Jan. 6.
“I think he is a thoughtful, deeply analytical person,” Kennedy said. “What I understand far less well is his particular political evolution. I had no inkling really just how conservative he was. I blame myself. The feeling on my part is that I simply was not paying attention to what he was doing in the arena of student culture where he was moving.”
University of Missouri Law Professor Thom Lambert
Lambert, who said he is a gay evangelical Christian, said that after Hawley spent several semesters teaching at the university, he became alarmed that Hawley began making pronouncements that didn’t square with his background in constitutional law but instead appeared designed to attract political support. Lambert was especially shocked in 2015 when Hawley, then a candidate for attorney general, weighed in on a Kentucky case in which a county clerk was arrested for refusing to give a same-sex couple a marriage license or to allow her deputies to do so, citing her religious beliefs. Hawley said it was “tragic” that the clerk was arrested, and he promised to protect such government officials if he were elected.
“This is the moment when I realized, I’m not sure I know this guy,” Lambert said. “He was trying to establish his credentials as a religious-freedom warrior. This is where I thought, you’re kind of lying here. You’re misrepresenting how the Constitution works.”
Former classmate Andrea Randle
Andrea Randle, who went to school with Hawley from second to eighth grades and served with him in student government, initially was impressed. She recalled that, when she was one of a handful of Blacks at Lexington Middle School, he worked with her on an initiative for a middle school graduation ceremony that was designed to include people from all backgrounds.
“I thought he was being inclusive,” she said. Only later, like a number of other key figures in Hawley’s life, would she decide that she had been misled.
“It just doesn’t seem like that person he was is the person he is today,” Randle said. “It’s disappointing and disheartening. This denial of facts, the denial of the people who are marginalized in our culture, that there are historical systems in place that are still keeping people down. That he won’t even acknowledge it is just kind of crazy to me.”
Image credit: Screengrab / Senator Josh Hawley / YouTube