Danforth says regrets over Hawley make him feel like ‘Dr. Frankenstein’

In podcast, former Senator says he would back primary opponent for Hawley in 2024

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, (R-MO) sits in the House Chamber before a joint session of congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former Sen. Jack Danforth recently dived deeper into his regrets over promoting Josh Hawley, saying on a podcast that it is “what Dr. Frankenstein must have felt.

The reference to Mary Shelley’s famous horror story of a murderous monster came in the Bulwark podcast published on Monday. In a discussion with host Jim Swift, Danforth laid responsibility for the Jan. 6 insurrection at Hawley’s feet.

By being the first Senator to announce he would object during certification of the electoral vote, Danforth said, Hawley set the stage for the deadly riot that day.

“I wouldn’t say he was storming the battlements himself,” Danforth said, “but he was certainly lighting the match in the middle of the forest and creating the situation where all this occurred.”

In the aftermath of the riots, Danforth on Jan. 7 said supporting Hawley “was the worst mistake I ever made in my life.”

Speaking with Swift, Danforth acknowledged that those words may sound cliche but that he meant it because “I really was part of creating something that has just turned out in a really terrible way. So, yeah, I feel, I guess, a little like what Dr. Frankenstein must have felt. I was part of creating something that was really wrong.”

In the novel, Victor Frankenstein uses all his energy to pursue and destroy the monster. In an interview with The Independent about the podcast on Wednesday, Danforth said he will not put forward that intensity to bringing down Hawley.

“It is not that personal,” Danforth said.

What he is doing, he said, is communicating with Republicans across the country to coordinate a strategy for defeating former President Donald Trump’s most ardent backers.

“We traditional Republicans have been passive,” Danforth told The Independent. “All of the action has been by the Trumpians and as far as the Trumpians are concerned, anybody who votes wrong on the impeachment is going to be primaried.

“We have to be more active, focused and organized and not just roll over and play dead,” Danforth added. “What we have got to do is form a team.”

Hawley’s Senate office did not respond to a request for a response to Danforth’s statements.

The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last month left five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, and two Capitol police officers have since committed suicide

A memorial service for Sicknick was held Wednesday in the Capitol Rotunda.

More than 230 people have been arrested on charges related to the riots, including Missourians Emily Hernandez of Sullivan and Zachary Martin of Rogersville.

The backlash against Hawley in the aftermath of the insurrection didn’t just come from Danforth. A major donor to his first campaign, David Humphreys, called for his censure by the Senate. A major backer of his Senate campaign, former ambassador and national leader among Jewish Republicans Sam Fox of St. Louis, called his actions “a disgrace.” 

Simon & Schuster canceled its contract with Hawley for a book and Hallmark, the Kansas City-based greeting card company, asked for its donations back.

More recently, seven Senate Democrats asked for the Ethics Committee to investigate Hawley, and he responded by seeking an ethics probe of those members.

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Hawley’s role in raising objections to the electoral vote count and the ensuing riot has not shown up in his campaign fundraising, and the impact on his political position in Missouri has been minimal, at least among Republicans.

Hawley had his best month of fundraising since the 2018 campaign in January, Axios reported. And while his overall approval rating fell rom 43 percent on Jan. 5 to 36 percent on Jan. 18, according to a Morning Consult poll, he has the support of 63 percent of Republicans. 

During the podcast, Danforth dismissed Hawley’s attempts at defending his actions, noting that in a recent New York Post article, Hawley sought to portray it as an effort to silence him for saying unpopular things. In that article, Hawley wrote that it was part of an effort by corporations, big tech companies and liberals to silence disagreement at all levels.

That is wrong, Danforth said, and Hawley is simply trying to distract attention from his actions.

It is what Hawley did, Danforth added, not what he said.

“Josh, by saying I’m going to object to this, he created an event,” Danforth said. “He said this is going to be an event. And then he said this is going to be decisive. And he did this repeatedly. 

“He said, Jan. 6 is going to be the day of decision, this is not over until Jan. 6. Then when Jan. 6 came, that famous picture of him with his arm in the air, he encouraged all of this.”

During a Jan. 4 interview on Fox News, when asked if his intent was to put President Donald Trump in office for a second term, Hawley said “that depends on what happens on Wednesday.”

Danforth took sides politically on Hawley’s behalf for the first time in the 2016 campaign for attorney general. In late 2015, when Hawley, then an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, was challenging state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, Danforth endorsed Hawley after supporting Schaefer in earlier campaigns.

That support, and Humphreys’ money, helped Hawley defeat Schaefer and launch his career. 

Danforth then publicly encouraged Hawley to run for the Senate against incumbent Democratic candidate Claire McCaskill in 2018.

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In the podcast, Danforth repeated a story that has become familiar as journalists dissect Hawley’s career. He first met Hawley during a visit to Yale Law School, where Danforth graduated and Hawley was a student.

He was impressed by Hawley’s intellect, he said. After his 2018 victory saying he expected Hawley to be an honest voice in the Senate and referred to his admiration of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat in the Senate from 1977 to 2001.

Danforth was in the Senate from 1976 to 1995.

Among many other things, Moynihan is known for popularizing the statement “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

“That was my view of him. That is why I was so high on him,” Danforth said. “It turns out that he adopted this populist line, which is a disease that’s infected the country but particularly Republican politics.”

The purpose of politics under the Constitution is to reconcile interests and resolve grievances, keeping diverse communities united as one people, Danforth said. Populism’s aim, he said, is to divide people based on those interests and grievances.

The Republican Party was founded on the principle of keeping the states united and now it is the party of division, Danforth said. As a result, the GOP is not a national party anymore, he said.

Speaking to the Independent, Danforth said his goal is to re-establish the Republican Party as an “effective and responsible” political force.

“I do not concede that the party that I was part of for decades and decades has become the opposite of anything that I ever was or tried to be,” he said.