A striding man in a blue suit, with a grim look on his face, raises his fist to the crowd out of shot.
It was only after the mob dispersed — and the pipe bombs were defused at the offices of both major parties — that Francis Chung’s photo of Senator Josh Hawley began to go viral.
Since he joined the Senate in 2019, for his social conservative supporters Hawley has picked the right fights and made the right enemies. Liberals, though some agreed with him that Big Tech should be broken up, saw someone to worry about. Hawley was Trump with a brain and a conscience — a potentially more dangerous prospect — but he never had much profile among the Donald Trump base.
Then last week, even after the militia bros made their attempt to prevent Congress from carrying out election law, Hawley put loyalty to the President above everything (including, arguably, loyalty to the constitution) and objected to the counting of the Electoral College votes that confirmed Joe Biden’s win.
In the days since, he has been the subject of a sustained rolling ignominy, including the cancellation of his book on Big Tech with Simon & Schuster, his home state’s largest newspaper calling for his head, and David Humphreys, one of his earliest donors, saying that supporting Hawley was “the worst mistake I have ever made in my life.”
But is this the end for the junior Senator? He is typically spoken of as a potential ‘heir to Trump’ — has he now blown it by going one step too far?
Revisiting his keynote speech from the National Conservatism Conference in Washington last year, I can’t help feeling that it would be a mistake to count him out. That address hit every post-liberal talking point — family, faith, flag — but he makes them sound fresh. It combines aww shucks, down-home American political loquacity (“…the kind of people who built this nation are here still, waking early and working late, manning the fire department and coaching the Little League”) with imperial references to Horatius at the bridge and Macaulay.
What the Ivy league lawyer was missing was any roughness or sense of being an insurgent, an outsider.
In that fist raised to the Stop The Steal crowd, Liberals, and many Republicans, saw a mask being ripped off. No longer an interesting (if scary) renegade, Hawley was transformed into a traitor, and a pariah. He suddenly finds himself one of the most despised men in America.
But the other America does not see it that way. As Republican politicians reverse away from Trump, Hawley has neither apologised for nor explained his actions. What does that America see when it looks at that photo of Hawley? Certainly not sedition.
The senator is only 41. In raising his fist he claimed the only part of Trump’s mantle he didn’t have before, and never expected to take — the dangerous part.