Senator Hawley's Intentions

An in-depth analysis of what Josh Hawley's announcement today is really about

When I woke up this morning, I was planning to write on an entirely different topic. I figured since the Electoral College had voted and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had told the Senate it was unwise to raise objections to certifying Biden’s victory, the whole argument about Biden being fairly elected was settled. But then, in defiance of McConnell’s wishes, Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley announced his intention to object to the certification of the Electoral College vote when Congress meets on January 6th.

So, I thought what the <bleep>? How does this happen? Has new fraud evidence been discovered after the states certified their counts?

Since one of the purposes of this newsletter is to help you really understand what is going on in politics, Senator Hawley’s actions give us a good first opportunity to apply a few of the most important principles of Positive Politics, and those are

  • Make your reasoning transparent and strive to make sense

  • Be motivated by doing good for the whole country

  • Be open to exploring assumptions and modifying your reasoning based on the facts and rationality

So first, let’s look at how Senator Hawley explains himself. Does he give his reasoning? Does it make sense? To his credit, he does have some reasoning. It goes as follows:

"I cannot vote to certify the electoral college results on January 6 without raising the fact that some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws,"

Okay, sounds reasonable at first. But wait! Didn’t this claim already fail spectacularly at various state supreme courts before being unceremoniously denied by the United States Supreme Court? So what possible value could there be in raising this again? Ultimately, although Hawley gives a reason, it is not a very reasonable one.

Senator Hawley then states,

“At the very least, Congress should investigate allegations of voter fraud and adopt measures to secure the integrity of our elections. But Congress has so far failed to act.”

Here again, “asked and answered.” This investigation has already happened. The Trump campaign has already pressed dozens of court cases challenging the election. Perhaps surprisingly, in all those cases, they presented no evidence of fraud in court. If the evidence existed, wouldn’t they have presented it? So why should the United States Congress take time from fighting the pandemic, dealing with the economy, protecting against racial injustice, and numerous other important issues to waste its time investigating some spurious allegations that have already been vigorously discussed for the last two months with nothing being produced? There’s more evidence for investigating UFO landings than there is for 2020 election fraud cases.

Finally, Senator Hawley then claims he is entitled to object because the Democrats did it first. To be fair, this is partly true. Democrats have objected to a state’s vote count in the past, so it is not unprecedented. For example, in 2005, then-Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, joined with then-Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, an Ohio Democrat, to object to President Bush's win in Ohio. But while that is a fact, the question is whether it is the right thing to do. As we all know “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

So now for our second principle of Positive Politics—that the motivation for the action should be for the good of the whole country. This is the perplexing part: Why is he doing it all? Mr. Hawley is a graduate of Yale Law School. He surely knows that there is no evidence; he knows that all of Trump’s cases failed. He also surely knows the election will not be overturned. As described here, there is virtually no chance of overturning the election because it will ultimately it will come down to a House vote where the Democrats have the majority.

The prevailing opinion among pundits is that he (like other Trump loyalists) are conducting some kind of political theater. But to what end? Senator Boxer claimed that she was trying to make a point about voter suppression. While I might disagree with objecting to the certification of the count as a means to make a point, there was at least something to object to. In this upcoming vote with Senator Hawley, there is no legitimate point to be made. Few things are completely clear in politics, but one thing that is iron clad is that Biden won fair and square.

The only conclusion I can reach, as many others have, is that Senator Hawley is acting in his own best interests: He is pledging allegiance to Trump and Trump’s base by peddling these unfounded claims. Is that good for the country? It would seem not. Isn’t an elected official responsible to try to do what is right for the country?

What is his ultimate purpose? Some have argued it is actually to undermine democracy, which it is probably doing. But I am not sure that is Senator Hawley’s goal. Rather, I suspect Senator Hawley is trying to garner Trump’s support to stay elected. Ironically, he is trying to stay elected by peddling doubt about the election system. This seems not only duplicitous but also likely to lead to no good, as GOP senators are finding out in Georgia when their own people call for a boycott of the election.

In conclusion, it seems hard to justify Senator Hawley’s intention as aligning with Positive Politics. His reasoning is poor, leading us to suspect his motivations. In the end, he seems to be taking steps to make politics more negative rather than positive. Finally, recall that the third principle I gave upfront for Positive Politics was to be open to exploring assumptions and modifying your reasoning. So please feel free to respond by email or comment!