The list of Missouri supporters abandoning U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley grew Friday, when a prominent early backer accused him of “an act of reckless pandering” by raising objections as electoral votes were counted.
Sam Fox of St. Louis, ambassador to Belgium during President George W. Bush’s administration, joined former Sen. Jack Danforth, and Joplin businessman David Humphreys, who donated millions to his first campaign, in cutting ties with Hawley.
“Sen. Hawley engaged in an act of reckless pandering,” Fox said in the statement released through a spokesman. “He helped put the country on a path that has ended in five deaths and in disgrace for himself and for the nation. Supporting Hawley when he ran for the Senate in 2018 was my mistake. He can certainly forget about any support from me again.”
And some prominent Missouri Republicans are saying that it will take far longer to repair the damage to Hawley’s political career, if it can be rehabilitated, than to fix the damage to the Capitol.
John Hancock, a former state GOP chairman and the consultant who led the independent expenditure group Uniting Missouri that backed Gov. Mike Parson’s 2020 election campaign, said Hawley has likely destroyed his chances for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.
“Obviously, this has been a rough week for Sen. Hawley,” Hancock said. “I think that there is a road ahead for him and I hope he navigates it well.”
Hawley was the first Republican Senator to announce he would raise objections during the usually ceremonial joint session of Congress. A photo of Hawley raising his fist in salute of the mob approaching the U.S. Capitol after a rally with President Donald Trump is an enduring image from Wednesday.
From our Francis Chung, Sen. Josh Hawley greeting protesters in the east side of the Capitol before riots began. pic.twitter.com/I8DjBCDuoP
— Manuel Quinones (@ManuelQ) January 6, 2021
Hawley did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Fox’s statement. He has not responded to any requests for comment from The Independent on statements from Humphreys or Danforth.
Fox mobilized his national network of deep-pocket political donors in 2017 on Hawley’s behalf. In a June 2017 letter, he asked them to refrain from any commitment in the 2018 Missouri Senate race until Hawley, then Missouri Attorney General, formally announced.
Hawley at the time was six months into his first term as an elected official and publicly uncommitted about the race against incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat with decades of political experience. Fox wrote his letter a few months after Danforth, Hawley’s political mentor, and several prominent Republicans wrote a letter urging Hawley to run.
McCaskill held the seat Danforth initially won in 1976 and gave up when he chose not to run for a fourth term in 1994.
Danforth was the first prominent Hawley supporter in Missouri to criticize his actions, and his anger at Hawley grew after the violence Wednesday was followed by Hawley pushing forward with his challenge to the electoral vote of Pennsylvania.
“Supporting Josh Hawley … was the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life,” Danforth told the Associated Press on Thursday.
Also on Thursday, Humphreys, who donated millions to his first campaign, called for the Senate to censure Hawley.
“Hawley’s irresponsible, inflammatory, and dangerous tactics have incited violence and further discord across America,” Humphreys said in a statement to the Independent. “And he has now revealed himself as a political opportunist willing to subvert the Constitution and the ideals of the nation he swore to uphold.”
Fox is the owner of Harbour Group, a business management firm in St. Louis. He was a major fundraiser for Bush and later for Mitt Romney, and is past president of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
When he wrote backing Hawley in 2017, Danforth characterized it as a major step in securing Hawley the money needed for the race.
“This will be a major attention-getter for (Republican donors around the country) and will tell them someone as formidable as Sam Fox believes that Josh Hawley is our best candidate for the Senate,” Danforth told the Springfield News-Leader.
There is also a growing national outcry against Hawley, with many Democrats calling for his resignation and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, telling NPR that what Hawley did was “really dumbass.”
Sasse said he made that clear in both public statements and private conversations prior to Wednesday.
“This was a stunt,” Sasse said. “It was a terrible, terrible idea. And you don’t lie to the American people. And that’s what’s been going on.”
Sasse, like Hawley, is considered to be a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024. That is also when Hawley must decide if he will seek a second term in the Senate.
In many ways, Hawley seemed to be getting the attention he desired following his Dec. 30 announcement that he was the first U.S. Senator willing to sign a challenge as Congress counted electoral votes. As a junior lawmaker with only two years in office, Hawley had his name in more headlines in more places than he had ever had previously.
Now is the time for Hawley to lower his visibility and do serious legislative work, Hancock said.
“He’s got a job to do in the US Senate and I think he’s more than capable of doing it well,” Hancock said. “There are probably some relationships in the building he will need to tend to for his own future and frankly for Missouri.”
Hancock added that the events surrounding the electoral count should not determine Hawley’s future.
“Josh is bright, he’s very capable and I don’t think this chapter should define him or his career,” Hancock said.
Former Republican Congressman Tom Coleman, who represented northwest Missouri from 1976 to 1993, said he’s not sure Hawley has the character to be a serious lawmaker.
“I do know that serving in the Congress that there are certain people that understand their limitations and can be very effective,” Coleman said. “There are others who are great grandstanders — and i consider this to be a grandstand — who make a lot of noise and accomplish very little.”
Coleman got his political start working with Danforth. Hawley has made his personal ambitions the most important aspect of his political career, Coleman said.
“Josh Hawley, I believe, always had, from the first time he sat in the Senate, had his sights on the presidency,” Coleman said in an interview with the Independent. “Blind ambition here has outweighed any intellectual analysis, humility and character that Mr. Hawley may have had.”
The big donors and prominent supporters are abandoning Hawley but rank-and-file GOP voters and Trump supporters will remember what he did and reward him, said state Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis.
Hill was in Washington on Wednesday rather than go to Jefferson City to be sworn in for a fourth term in the Missouri House. He said he attended the rally where Trump spoke but did not march to the Capitol or enter it.
“Missourians are sick of the establishment,” Hill said, “and for Josh to take that stand and say Missourians want answers, we want to investigate this, that is what he is sent there to do.”