For months on end we’ve heard that the “respectable” wing of the Missouri GOP, i.e., the corporatist, country club set, have set their hopes on Attorney General Josh Hawley as the perfect candidate to fell Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill come next November. He has been the protege of no lesser Missouri Republican luminary that the august John Danforth – the very John Danforth who has publicly vilified “hateful” Donald Trump and his influence on the Republican party – a point of view about which Hawley has maintained a marked silence.
And there’s good reason for Hawley to avoid controversy. GOPland is in turmoil. The assorted racists and otherwise disaffiliated right wingers to whom the respectable Republicans have thrown a few crumbs now and then are organizing to take over the party. Steve Bannon, Trump’s would-be brain, is threatening to make good on his desire to transform the GOP into a fascist “workers” party allied to the more déclassé (i.e., racist) elements of the conservative right. The recent electoral success in Alabama of über nujtjob Roy Moore, Bannon’s candidate of choice, is giving Republican politicians a serious case of the jitters – including, evidently, the oh-so prim Josh Hawley who, in better times, would probably have run a mile from a piece of work like Bannon.
To give Hawley credit where credit is due, he’s proactive; Politico reports today that he picked up the ball and tried to lob it into Bannon’s court:
Two Republican sources said Attorney General Josh Hawley, a soft-spoken 37-year-old with an Ivy League pedigree who is expected to officially announce a run soon, called Bannon late last week, after The New York Times reported the Breitbart leader was targeting Hawley for defeat in Missouri’s GOP Senate primary. Republicans, who saw their last chance to defeat McCaskill slip away after they nominated gaffe-prone then-Rep. Todd Akin, fear Bannon’s interference could cause a similar outcome in 2018.
On the call, Hawley reminded Bannon of their mutual friends, including the Mercer megadonor family, which bankrolls much of Bannon’s political work. Hawley met with Robert Mercer last fall when he was running for attorney general, one Republican close to Hawley said. Hawley also mentioned Club for Growth President David McIntosh and conservative legal expert Leonard Leo, who advises President Donald Trump on judicial nominations.
And just who would take the role of Todd Akin this go round? Why, Politico suggests, none other than Ed Martin, sleazebag and potential spoiler extraordinaire. You can understand why Hawley and Missouri’s GOP establishment might be just a little alarmed. Martin has his adherents, but he is just too well known in Missouri in ways that might alienate votes that would be crucial in a statewide election.
Robert Kutner makes a persuasive case in The American Prospect that neither Bannon nor GOPers like Hawley are likely to fare too well in their attempt to make common cause. They’re just different kinds of beasts:
… Bannon hopes he can find outsiders who are both social conservatives and Bannon-style economic populists.
The trouble is that this category of Republican candidate is almost a null set. There are none in Congress, and that’s no accident.
For decades, right-wing Republican candidates have gotten elected by marrying social conservatism to big-business conservatism. If Bannon thinks he can break that link, he has his work cut out.
It’ll be interesting to see if Hawley can effect a political marriage of minds (or if his donors can). If he weren’t cast in the traditional conservative mold that Bannon professes to abhor, he wouldn’t be filling the role of fair-haired child for the John Danforths of the Missouri GOP. He may be fine when it comes to “guns, God, and gays,” but will he really buck the more genteel big money boys he is currently so identified with?
And while Martin is no more of a “pocketbook populist” than Hawley – at least to date – he’s also crude, dishonest, and opportunistic, and, I’d be willing to lay odds, more than willing to take on the role of populist if it advanced his personal agenda – after all, Trump is no more of a populist than Martin, but he has just enough of the vocabulary to try to claim the label. And, of course, Martin is also, with his genius for the colossal cock-up, the perfect vehicle for Bannonesque disruption.
Kutner observes that “the result of a Bannon-led civil war in the Republican Party could well be a GOP even more extremist—and more of a national minority party.” The Missouri Hawley-Martin-Bannon triangle will play out against this scenario. What does this mean for Missouri? Kutner offers a suggestion:
… . In states that have populist Democrats on the ballot, such as Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio, it is hard to imagine a Bannon-backed social conservative getting to Brown’s left on pocketbook issues. But centrist Democrats could be vulnerable—if Bannon could truly find some pocketbook populist Republicans.
So, will the Bannon insurgency therefore help the Democrats? Maybe, maybe not. That depends on what the Democrats do.
So has the ball actually been lobbed to the Missouri Democratic party, and, more importantly to Claire McCaskill? If so, what will she and they do with it? Are they capable of claiming the bold populist mantle that seems to be the garment of choice nowadays?