The Washington Post this week published a long hit piece by investigative political reporter Michael Kranish on Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, framed as a profile tracing his “path to the insurrection,” from elite establishment Republican to dangerous MAGA populist.
It’s hard to imagine a more dishonest and condescending piece of journalism. Kranish and his editors obviously blame Hawley in part for the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol (more on that later), and they clearly think he’s a dangerous and hateful figure in American public life.
But instead of just running an editorial saying so, Kranish spends thousands of words conveying his contempt for Hawley through selective interviews and quotes. He does a deep dive into Hawley’s past, digging up and quoting columns the senator wrote in high school, tracking down and interviewing elementary school classmates, and talking with the mayor of Hawley’s small hometown in western Missouri.
He interviews former professors, political associates, and even the University of California at Los Angeles law professor who coined the term “critical race theory,” who told Kranish that Hawley “walks in the footsteps of many demagogues in America’s historical past, whose trajectory into the center of power has been through racialized scapegoating.”
But for all this, the piece is not really about Hawley. It’s about ordinary Americans who live in small towns, go to church, and believe their country is a decent place worthy of their affection. Kranish despises those people even more than he despises Hawley, and he goes to great lengths to show it.
Hawley Comes From a Town With a ‘Racist Legacy’
Take Hawley’s hometown of Lexington, Missouri. Lexington is a small town on the Missouri river of about 4,700 people. Like a lot of small towns in the South, it was once home to black slaves and white slaveowners.
It was also the site of two of the largest battles in the western theater of the Civil War, the First Battle of Lexington in 1861 and the Second Battle of Lexington in 1864, and a center of operations for Confederate guerilla forces under William Quantrill, including a young Jesse James, who was wounded by federal troops while riding into town to surrender after the war.
Kranish isn’t interested in any of this rich and varied history, though. He just wants his readers to know that Lexington has a “racist legacy” and insular, ignorant residents. People like Hawley, in other words.
“Lexington’s lack of recognition of its role in slavery has meant that the city did not have the kind of introspection about inequality that might have broadened Hawley’s outlook,” writes Kranish, quoting a random former classmate who declares that Hawley “had an insular life in this small town.”
It’s unclear if the person quoted even knew Hawley, let alone knew him well enough to know whether he had an insular life growing up in Lexington. The point is, according to Kranish, that if you come from an obviously racist, backwards place like this there’s a good chance you’re a racist, or at least racially insensitive. You know, like Hawley.
Hawley Opposes Individual Liberty, Sort Of
Kranish would also like his readers to know that evangelical Christians like Hawley hate gay people. Why else include a lengthy aside about how Hawley in 2015 expressed support for Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was arrested and jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs?
We hear from Thom Lambert, a University of Missouri law professor who recruited Hawley but later “became alarmed that Hawley began making pronouncements that didn’t square with his background in constitutional law but instead appeared designed to attract political support,” writes Kranish, citing the Davis case. Kranish quotes Lambert, a “gay evangelical Christian,” saying that Hawley’s support for Davis was him “trying to establish his credentials as a religious-freedom warrior. This is where I thought, you’re kind of lying here. You’re misrepresenting how the Constitution works.”
Actually, Hawley’s support for Davis was based on Missouri’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars the government from “compelling or restricting a person’s exercise of religion.” At the time, Hawley said that Davis should not have been compelled against her conscience to issue the marriage licenses and should not have been arrested, but also that others in her office should have been allowed to issue the licenses, which is what ended up happening. Far from animosity against gay Americans, Hawley was expressing support for individual rights of conscience.
It’s ironic, then, that Kranish later tries to paint Hawley as an enemy of conscience and individual liberty by misleadingly summarizing an essay Hawley wrote in June 2019 for Christianity Today on Pelagius, a fourth-century theologian who was declared a heretic by the Catholic Church for his teachings on free will.
Hawley wrote, correctly, that Pelagius believed human beings could achieve perfection without the aid of divine grace, through the exercise of their will. He argues that Pelagianism persists today in the concept of unfettered individual liberty, which in America most benefits powerful and wealthy elites who have embraced what Hawley calls “a philosophy for the privileged.”
“Because if freedom means choice among options, then the people with the most choices are the most free,” wrote Hawley. “And that means the rich. And if salvation is about achievement, then those with the most accolades are righteous, and that means the elite and the strong.”
Hawley’s column is really an overview of a larger and more subtle argument, backed by mountains of research, that suggests wealthy and highly educated people tend to thrive in a society that embraces autonomy and unconstrained choice, while less-educated and working class people tend to suffer. But for Kranish, who seems to revel in reducing complex ideas to personal insults, all of this is just more evidence that Hawley finds liberty “abhorrent.”
The Post Also Blames Hawley For the Jan. 6 Riot
But all these meandering and insubstantial attacks on Hawley are really just filler for Kranish’s main complaint against the Missouri senator: he dared to object to the certification of the results of the 2020 election on Jan. 6, and therefore bears some responsibility for the ensuing riot at the U.S. Capitol that day.
Unsurprisingly, Kranish misrepresents what Hawley was objecting to. He writes: “Hawley focused on Pennsylvania, saying the state had violated its constitution by widening access to mail-in ballots. But it was a Republican-controlled legislature that approved universal mail voting in 2019, and the GOP had encouraged its use.”
But of course it doesn’t matter whether Pennsylvania’s legislature was controlled by Republicans or Democrats. If it violated its constitution, that’s a problem, and Hawley understandably wanted to raise the issue.
It also wasn’t the only issue in Pennsylvania that Hawley and others raised. About six weeks before the election, the state’s supreme court had overridden the legislature’s rules for counting mail-in ballots, extending by fiat the deadline for when absentee ballots must be postmarked and received in order to be counted. The Pennsylvania legislature had already set down rules for these things, but the court sided with the state Democratic Party, which had sued to push back the deadline in contravention of state election law.
In a Dec. 30 statement announcing his plans to object, Hawley alluded to these issues, saying, “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.”
Tens of millions of Americans share these exact concerns about the 2020 election, not because they’re conspiracy theorists but because they understand the importance of the rule of law and election integrity. It’s one reason why so many state legislatures are trying to pass election reform laws, to ensure that last-minute lawsuits and activist judges or unelected bureaucrats can’t change state voting laws by decree.
But for Kranish, who apparently feels free to inject his opinion into what the Post bills as political news coverage, “such concerns exist largely because Hawley, Trump and their allies stoked them with false claims.”
No, they don’t. Such concerns would exist even if Hawley and Trump had never breathed a word about them for the simple reason that Americans saw for themselves what happened around the country on Election Day and the days following, and concluded that something wasn’t right. A week after he lodged his objections, Hawley wrote, “For months, I heard from these Missourians — writing, calling my office, stopping me to talk. They want Congress to take action to see that our elections at every level are free, fair, and secure. They have a right to be heard in Congress.”
In other words, Kranish gets the whole thing backwards. Hawley wasn’t stoking fears and ginning up the mob, he was responding to concerns that his constituents had raised repeatedly after the election. Those concerns are grounded in real problems with our election system that need to be solved if Americans are going to have confidence in the vote moving forward.
No wonder, then, that Kranish can’t quite grasp why Hawley is so popular with half the country. Near the end of his 5,000-word hatchet job, Kranish finally gets around to acknowledging how popular Hawley is with Republicans, noting that he raised $3 million in the first quarter of this year and appears to enjoy broad popularity among GOP voters in Missouri, where he was given a standing ovation after speaking in the town of Ozark on April 17.
Kranish notes these things, but he is not the least bit curious why Hawley is so popular. For him, as for the great mass of corporate media, it’s enough to declare that Hawley has “embraced the false claims of election fraud,” and leave it at that. Republican voters are stupid, you see, and Hawley seems to have figured that out.
Or so it is according to Michael Kranish, who never met an intelligent and charismatic Republican he couldn’t smear as a hypocritical, racist conspiracy theorist if you just give him 5,000 words and a ticket to a place like Lexington, Missouri.