Elite G0P senators try to emulate Trump in criticizing Biden's Cabinet--but fail miserably

Call Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio the "Elite Strike-Out Force"

Welcome to The Signorile Report, where you’ll read hard-hitting political commentary and exposés; find interviews with newsmakers; hear me “engage” with right-wingers who call my radio program; and connect with like-minded, passionate people everywhere committed to fighting against hate and corruption. Subscribe now to get all of this in your email box a few times a week, and if you’d like to support this ad-free forum consider subscribing at $5 per month.

GOP Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri is as elite as they come.

He’s the son of a banker, even though, as The New Republic’s Alexander Zaitchik noted last year in a detailed piece, in his “campaign ads and speeches, Hawley gives the impression that he grew up hard on a struggling family farm.” Educated at Stanford and Yale, after attending a prestigious private Jesuit boys prep school in Kansas City, Hawley taught in London for a while, at one of the most revered elite boys schools in England, before becoming a college professor at the University of Missouri. Elected in 2018 to the U.S. Senate (after serving as Missouri’s attorney general), Hawley, the youngest current U.S. senator at age 40, currently lives in liberal, suburban Northern Virginia with his family, in a $1.3 million home.

He’s apparently not lived in the state he represents for so long now that he’s possibly in violation of voter registration law in Missouri, according to a report two weeks ago in the Kansas City Star, since he’s claiming his sister’s address in Ozark as his residence for voting purposes while he, his wife and his children are actually living in NoVA. (After this was revealed, Hawley’s defense was that he’s in the process of building a new home in Ozark — which still doesn’t explain why he uses his sister’s address yet doesn’t live there.)

The story — and an editorial last week lambasting him — shined a light on the hypocrisy of Hawley having positioned himself as a populist taking on “elites” and corporations — attempting to be the heir to Trumpism without the wretched face of Donald Trump — even as he ran in 2018 supporting Trump’s massive tax cuts for corporations and padded his campaign with millions from the Koch brothers dark money network and from a bunch of other corporate billionaires from whom he gladly took money.

And it was thus equally laughable last week when Hawley, in a tweet, lashed out at Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks — all highly qualified professionals in their fields, whatever you may think of them, and a far cry from Trump’s Cabinet of billionaires and grifters — as “corporatists.”

As Mehdi Hasan wrote earlier this year at the Intercept, Hawley is a faux populist, just like Trump. He’s a Christian nationalist, having a Blackstone Fellowship at the virulently anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom under his belt. He’s a traditional right-winger, funded by all the same Koch money as the rest of the GOP. He only began speaking with a populist edge as he sought a run for the Senate in 2018 amid Trump’s presidency, then and now putting on a grand show of taking on Big Tech and Big Pharma.

Hawley wasn’t the only senator on everyone’s list of ambitious 2024 presidential aspirants to take a shot — and fail miserably — at Biden’s Cabinet last week. As the Washington Post noted in a piece headlined, “Republicans lob accusations of elitism at ‘Middle Class Joe’ — a sign of the upended politics of populism”:

…In near-identical tweets this week, GOP senators Tom Cotton (Ark.), Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) all came out pretty aggressively against Biden’s Cabinet picks.

The common thread of their tweets: a populist-like resistance to the educated, steeped-in-government expertise that Biden wants to shape his government with.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, at one time greatly admired by never Trumpers only to expediently become another Trump-hugging faux-populist-in-waiting, took the China hawk tack, accusing Biden of “surrounding himself with panda huggers who will only reinforce his instincts to go soft on China.” This was ridiculous and equally laughable, since it was Trump who was “soft” on China, hugging President Xi back in January and February, praising him at least 15 times as coronavirus spread across the globe.

But it was Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who made the dumbest of the attacks, which got him completely dragged on Twitter and throughout the media, in criticizing the Cabinet nominees as elites because they “went to Ivy League schools and have strong resumes.”

As many pointed out, not only did Trump attend an Ivy League school — even if, according to his sister, he had someone else take his SATs to get in — but he brags about it incessantly because he’s so insecure about being perceived as not very knowledgable (which is true). Hawley’s Ivy League pedigree is of course matched by that of Cotton, who attended Harvard, as well as by many other Republican leaders and members of Trump’s Cabinet, several of them corporate billionaires — for whom Rubio, Hawley and Cotton voted when their nominations came before the Senate.

Trump’s demented legal team, led by Rudy Giuliani, hilariously calls itself an “Elite Strike Force.” Maybe we should call the three senators the “Elite Strike-Out Force” because of how badly they’ve swung but missed.

Share The Signorile Report

Of the three, while Rubio’s attempt was the dumbest, I’d have to say it is Hawley who struck out in the most satisfying way — and in a way in which he needs to be exposed, after last year having given a prominent speech in which he attacked a “cosmopolitan elite” for the nation’s ills while clearly living the lifestyle of someone within it.

Just two weeks ago, as part of his populist charade, Hawley was basking in the glow of TV coverage of his having grilled Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Never mind that Hawley’s attacks on Big Tech are mostly for very different reasons than those of Elizabeth Warren, who strongly believes in curbing monopolies, even if the two senators might agree on ways to break it up; much of Hawley’s focus on Zuckerberg, for example, was on claims that Facebook was “censoring” conservative news outlets.)

But then came the revelation the following day of Hawley possibly in violation of voter registration law in Missouri by residing in an upscale DC suburb rather than within the state, surely a buzzkill. The reality was all the more glaring because in the 2018 campaign against incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, Hawley attacked her as an elitist for not spending enough time in Missouri, and owning a condo in Washington. “She flies over us in her private plane … to her luxury condo in D.C.,” Hawley said.

Hawley responded to the Kansas City Star revelations by doing something else Trump does: engaging in projection. He attacked his accusers as the elitists.

His spokesperson sent out a statement claiming Hawley was in fact living in Ozark at his sister’s, “down the street” from where he’s building a new home — though he’s actually been living in his home in Northern Virginia — and then completely deflected, stating, “We realize Ozark may not be ritzy, but it suits Josh and Erin just fine.”

The Kansas City Star editorial page slammed him in response last week, on Thanksgiving:

The ritziness of Ozark is not at issue, either, and has nothing to do with whether or not Hawley is following the law.

But, leave it to our junior senator to turn this into yet another pretend instance of sneering elites unfairly roughing him up.

I noted last week, referencing analysis from political writer Amanda Marcotte, that politicians like Hawley, Cotton and Rubio can try to act out their version of Trumpy populism until the cows come home. But none of it will work for a presidential run because faux populism isn’t what elected the non-politician and TV personality Donald Trump in 2016, nor is it what got him more votes even as he lost in 2020. It was, rather, a mix of celebrity, blatant racism, vulgarity, misogyny and mass rallies in which he was part crude comedian, part demagogue.

As Marcotte wrote in Salon:

Those guys and other contenders are all missing the secret sauce that helped Trump recruit so heavily among non-voters and infrequent voters. And no, it's not his so-called charisma.

What Trump really has going for him is what I call the "crackpot factor." Trump speaks to voters who share the racism and sexism of typical GOP voters, but who often don't vote because they think politics is boring and are awash in conspiracy theories about how the system is "rigged."

While Hawley, Cotton, Rubio and others could be a problem for Biden, putting on their best “Trumpism without Trump” face and trying to block his nominees, this first attempt was pretty lame. And it sure doesn’t look like a winning formula for a presidential contender in 2024 either.