The picture was perfect, like one of President Donald Trump’s phone calls, to Ukraine or the Georgia secretary of state.
Surely that’s what U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley and his ever-present image and political consultants thought after they saw it.
The photo of the junior senator from Missouri was taken Wednesday by photographer Francis Chung of E&E News just before the siege on the U.S. Capitol. Among the attackers on the people’s building were Confederate flag-waving white supremacists who had been urged on by the president. The photo shows Hawley honoring, perhaps saluting, or worse, instigating, the rioters as they gathered outside the Capitol, immediately before the vandalism and mayhem would begin. The insurrectionists trying to overturn the results of the free, democratic and state-certified election of Joe Biden as the next president would shut down the House and the Senate. Five people would die.
Hawley’s left fist is raised and tightly clenched. His face appears resolute as he greets the insurrectionists. Members of law enforcement appear in the background. His hair is neatly parted, but sticking up just a bit in front, showing his youthful energy. His suit jacket remains buttoned, because he works out, is fit and trim, and, well, presidential. Hawley’s mask dangles in his right hand by his side, barely visible, lest the patriots who contend that COVID-19 is a hoax think he is weak or will bow to authority.
The consultants, hoping to turn their creation into a 2024 presidential contender, must have been pleased with their staging, especially with it coming on the heels of a Fox News interview in which news anchor Bret Baier turned Hawley into a blubbering sycophant when trying to get him to explain his endorsement of baseless conspiracy theories. The consultants were two steps ahead. Fox News is yesterday’s news, your grandfather’s right-wing propaganda. The real juice among Trumpites these days is Newsmax or One America News Network. Those anchors won’t challenge Hawley. They’ll cheer him on.
Hawley doesn’t do anything by accident. We know that from his emails from his early days as the attorney general of the state of Missouri.
Here, some context is necessary to set the scene. It was early 2017, not long after Hawley had been elected. His most famous ad during the campaign showed him walking among other faceless politicians climbing ladders.
“Jefferson City is full of career politicians just climbing the ladder,” Hawley said. “I think you deserve better.”
Hawley left the viewer with the words he wanted them to remember when thinking about him: Hawley the Conservative. Hawley the Outsider. Hawley the Constitutional Lawyer.
Voters bought what Hawley was selling. Months later he was already on the rungs, plotting his campaign for the U.S. Senate. Remember, the Trump voters who pushed Hawley to victory were still chanting “lock her up,” in reference to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails to conduct public business.
Those rules, Hawley and his consultants determined, didn’t apply to him. So they used private emails to stage a campaign event masquerading as public action, a “raid” against massage parlors in Springfield, Missouri, that were alleged fronts for human trafficking.
Their memo outlined a “run of show” because that’s what it was. This was performance art, not law enforcement.
They lined up CNN and Jake Tapper for interviews before the raid. They set up a podium and microphone for Hawley. “We need to line up a location for the post raid media availability,” his consultants wrote on private email that was released long after the staged event. “Please work with group to find something — without telling anyone the purpose.”
Every detail, at least as it related to the candidate, er, the attorney general, was considered.
“Josh should open, and he should close,” the consultants wrote. “Do every interview you can.”
And, my personal favorite: “Josh should be wearing some kind of law enforcement garb — like a police jacket and hat.”
The staging was perfect. Hawley got the national headlines he sought, though litigation over his use of private emails to conduct public business continues. More than a year later, however, not a single felony had been filed as a result of the raids. It was a campaign photo-op. Nothing more.
So was Hawley’s solitary raised fist, urging on the rioters who on Wednesday attacked police officers, stormed the people’s building and briefly shut down American government. The mayhem still didn’t stop Hawley from objecting to the election results in another state where a state legislature — much like the one in Missouri — had expanded mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.
I suspect Hawley’s consultants came up with a name for his fist-raising photo.
Hawley Stands Up. Or Hawley The Fighter.
I have a different name for it:
Hawley: The Face of Sedition.