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Editorial: Hawley's sprint was more than just funny. It encapsulated his core cowardice.

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Hawley running

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., runs across a hallway during the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, in video shown during last week’s hearing the House committee investigating the attack. 

By now, it’s likely that every politically sentient person in Missouri has watched and re-watched the brief video aired in Thursday night’s House committee hearing showing Sen. Josh Hawley darting through the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, like Road Runner with Wile E. Coyote in hot pursuit. Laughable as the video is, it’s important to remember the deadly serious context surrounding this sidesplitting comeuppance for a politician who so richly deserves it. Lives were lost that day, the seat of government was breached for the first time in more than two centuries, American democracy was destabilized in what may yet prove to be permanent ways — and Missouri’s junior senator was instrumental in all of it.

When then-President Donald Trump refused to accept his clear defeat in the November 2020 election, every congressional Republican had a choice to make: Endorse Trump’s scheme to undermine public confidence in the results by falsely claiming that mass voter fraud had cost him reelection, or put party aside and stand up for democracy. Hawley, like far too many of his fellow Republicans, chose the former.

It was a common betrayal of duty within the party, but Hawley’s betrayal had unique consequences. Under a byzantine electoral process that both parties in Congress are even now attempting to reform, it takes just one member of each chamber objecting to a given state’s electoral results to trigger floor debate over those results. The House, being the House, had plenty of Trump sycophants lining up to pull that trigger, but it looked for a time like Senate Republicans would do the responsible thing and decline.

Then Hawley — and, initially, only Hawley — announced he would object. With that, the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 went from being a pro-forma rubber stamp of a settled election to a showdown over Trump’s big lie that would make the Capitol a target for the mob.

As Trump’s insurrection simmered that day outside the Capitol prior to the attack, Hawley raised his fist in solidarity with the crowd. At Thursday’s hearing of the House committee investigating the attack, Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia, displayed the now-iconic photo of that fist-pumping moment and said members spoke with a female Capitol Police officer who “told us that Senator Hawley’s gesture riled up the crowd, and it bothered her greatly because he was doing it in a safe space, protected by the officers and the barriers.”

Luria continued: “Later that day, Senator Hawley fled, after those protesters he helped to rile up stormed the Capitol. See for yourself.” The committee then aired the brief video showing Hawley lurching across a Capitol hallway — then re-ran it again in slow motion. Missouri’s hero was running for his life.

The crowd in the committee room erupted with laughter, as, no doubt, did legions of home viewers. Twitter was quickly overtaken by memes of the video, backed by fitting music — the theme from “Chariots of Fire,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” — along with the famous film scene in which Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump darts down a dirt road in a stiff-backed running gait that looks remarkably similar to Hawley’s.

“From now on,” noted one wag, “if political reporters ask Josh Hawley if he’s planning to run, he’s going to have to ask them to clarify.”

This newspaper, like others, has said Hawley should resign for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection — a position we continue to hold today — though it would be naïve to think he’d ever entertain it. If Hawley had a shred of shame, it would surely have manifested itself before now. The fact that he would later use the infamous photo of his raised fist as a fundraising tool says all there is to say on that topic.

Still, it’s fair to ask what the committee’s purpose was in airing the clip beyond gratuitously embarrassing a senator who most Democrats and even many mainstream Republicans love to hate. But we would argue there was substantive value to it. It demonstrated beyond any doubt that Hawley understood, in real time, the physical danger he helped uncork that day. And yet he kept twisting that corkscrew, carrying through that night on his objection to the election results that had endorsed Trump’s lie and emboldened his followers.

The entire scenario might also have value in convincing Republicans of conscience why this man doesn’t deserve their continued support. Not because of a momentary image that makes him look foolish but because it provides a vivid metaphor of the kind of politics he represents: bombastic, demagogic, self-interested — but ultimately devoid of courage.

In the wake of Jan. 6, as Hawley was trying to reform a standing that had been damaged even among his fellow Senate Republicans, he wrote an op-ed explaining his election objection like this: “Many, many citizens in Missouri have deep concerns about election integrity. … They want Congress to take action to see that our elections at every level are free, fair, and secure. They have a right to be heard in Congress.”

Think about that. Faced with constituents who had been misled by a lying president to reject the results of a fair election, Hawley doesn’t seek to educate them on the facts but rather agrees to give official voice to the lie, because that’s what they want. That’s not a leader, it’s a follower — one who follows the worst elements of his party, even after an attack that endangers him, his congressional colleagues and democracy itself. And that’s a legacy from which Hawley can never run.

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