It didn’t work. And the first senator to defy McConnell was the junior senator from Missouri.
Hawley was making a calculated political play that, for a year and a half, he’s managed to keep afloat. But one clip that aired during the House select committee hearing on Thursday evening might have made that water-treading impossible.
On Dec. 30, 2020, Hawley’s office released a statement announcing that he would object to the electors submitted by Pennsylvania. He tried to rationalize it by blaming technology companies, a favorite target of his, and raising objections to how votes were cast in the Keystone state, a question that had already been resolved by the state’s courts.
The plan was obvious. Hawley, an ambitious young politician, wanted to be able to be the guy who delivered for Trump’s base. Other senators knew it, too: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), similarly ambitious if less young, quickly came up with a plan for offering his own, slightly different objection. The race was on.
As he entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Hawley gave that infamous fist pump to the crowd of people outside — some eventual rioters among them. In the aftermath of the riot, there was a lot of criticism of Hawley’s gesture of encouragement, serving as it did as a reminder of his role in encouraging rioters to think that the electoral-vote counting should be derailed. After keeping a low profile for a bit, Hawley eventually began selling a mug showing the fist pump — continuing to do so even after the copyright-holder for the photo threatened to sue.
And why not? He’d weathered the immediate negative effects of his involvement in the riot, it seemed. Republican opinions on the day’s events had shifted and loyalty to Trump continued to be valuable currency. Even on the evening of Jan. 6 itself, Hawley was still hoping that eventuality might arrive. While at least one member of the Senate Republican caucus decided not to object to the submitted electors, Hawley didn’t. He still objected. Even after Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) shouted at him, “You have caused this!”, Hawley — standing in front of a fuming Romney — objected to the electoral slate.
This, it seems, was the bet. Hawley bet it would all work out politically, that he could wave away concerns like Romney’s over the short term and be a hero to the base for standing firm for years to come. And until, oh, about 9 p.m. on Thursday, it looked like it could work.
Then committee member Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) turned the hearing’s attention to Hawley’s actions inside the Capitol that day.
She started by showing the fist-pump photo, noting that a Capitol Police officer had expressed frustration at his doing so, since “he was doing it in a safe space, protected by the officers and the barriers.” Then Luria inserted the dagger.
“Later that day, Senator Hawley fled, after those protesters he helped to rile up stormed the Capitol,” she said. “See for yourself.”
Video of Hawley dashing across a hallway aired on a large screen at the front of the hearing room. Then it aired again, this time in slow motion.
The hearing was theoretically predicated on proving Trump had chosen not to act in response to the rioters on that day. This little aside about Hawley did not obviously have anything to do with that. It didn’t help the committee’s case against Trump, certainly. It was at least in part an overt effort to embarrass Hawley, contrasting his proud demonstration of allegiance with the soon-to-be rioters with his eventually becoming just another elected official who suddenly and unexpectedly found himself at the rioters’ mercy.
There is a sense in which airing the Hawley video fit with the committee’s efforts, though. The committee wants to exact a cost for those who sought to upend the results of the 2020 election. They want, if only unofficially, to make it impossible for Trump to be reelected as president. It’s safe to assume they understand the narrow path Hawley has been trying to walk and understood that airing that footage would in no way help him succeed. The senator loves to seem tough. That video seemed anything but.
Hawley wants the visual of his involvement in Jan. 6 to be that fist pump: the guy willing to fight for Trump. Instead, it is now that slow-motion video: the guy who thought he was cleverly leveraging Trump’s base for his own purposes, only to see things suddenly unfold in a dramatically different way.