Josh Hawley’s ‘Oily Disingenuousness’: 5 Takeaways From Mitt Romney’s New Book

Mitt Romney glares at Josh Hawley from the U.S. Senate floor
Mitt Romney glares at Josh Hawley from the floor of the U.S. Senate. Photo from the Senate Television via AP.

The Atlantic published explosive highlights from the upcoming biography of Senator Mitt Romney, Romney: A Reckoning.

The biography’s star-studded cast includes one notable Missouri name: Senator Josh Hawley. In his re-telling of the events on January 6, 2021, Mitt Romney reveals the “oily disingenuousness” of the Senator who built a brand off of supporting a violent insurrection. Here are our takeaways:

1. Hawley made “a calculation… that put politics above the interests of liberal democracy and the Constitution.”

Romney says Hawley was far too smart to believe Trump won the 2020 election. Instead, he made a political calculation and chose to sacrifice democracy to get 15 minutes of fame

What bothered Romney most about Hawley and his cohort was the oily disingenuousness. “They know better!” he told me. “Josh Hawley is one of the smartest people in the Senate, if not the smartest, and Ted Cruz could give him a run for his money.” They were too smart, Romney believed, to actually think that Trump had won the 2020 election. Hawley and Cruz “were making a calculation,” Romney told me, “that put politics above the interests of liberal democracy and the Constitution.”

2. Romney to Hawley on January 6: “You’re the reason this is happening!… You did this.”

Mitt Romney saw Hawley’s performative grandstanding as the cause of the January 6 riots:

Something about the volatility of the moment caused Romney —­ a walking amalgam of prep-school manners and Mormon niceness and the practiced cool of the private-equity set—to lose his grip, and he finally vented the raw anger he had been trying to contain. He turned to Josh Hawley, who was huddled with some of his right-wing colleagues, and started to yell. Later, Romney would struggle to recall the exact wording of his rebuke. Sometimes he’d remember shouting “You’re the reason this is happening!” Other times, it would be something more terse: “You did this.” At least one reporter in the chamber would recount seeing the senator throw up his hands in a fit of fury as he roared, “This is what you’ve gotten, guys!” Whatever the words, the sentiment was clear: This violence, this crisis, this assault on democracy—this is your fault.

3. Hawley “seemed to take a very dim view of [his] Republican constituents.”

Hawley knew Trump had lost the 2020 election, but he refused to tell the truth to his constituents. He manipulated Missourians because he thought he could get away with it: 

It struck Romney that, for all their alleged populism, Hawley and his allies seemed to take a very dim view of their Republican constituents.

“The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth!” Romney said, his voice rising to a shout.

4. Romney: “I doubt I will work with Josh Hawley on anything.”

After seeing Hawley sacrifice democracy for his own political gain, Romney determined he couldn’t work with him again:

What Romney couldn’t stomach any longer was associating himself with people who cynically stoked distrust in democracy for selfish political reasons. “I doubt I will work with Josh Hawley on anything,” he told me.

5. Hawley’s “authoritarianism is like a gargoyle lurking over the cathedral, ready to pounce.”

Romney knew authoritarians like Hawley from studying the history of great empires. After January 6, he worried Hawley and others like him would be the end of the American project:

His time in the Senate had left Romney worried—not just about the decomposition of his own political party, but about the fate of the American project itself.

Shortly after moving into his Senate office, Romney had hung a large rectangular map on the wall. First printed in 1931 by Rand McNally, the “histomap” attempted to chart the rise and fall of the world’s most powerful civilizations through 4,000 years of human history. When Romney first acquired the map, he saw it as a curiosity. After January 6, he became obsessed with it. He showed the map to visitors, brought it up in conversations and speeches. More than once, he found himself staring at it alone in his office at night. The Egyptian empire had reigned for some 900 years before it was overtaken by the Assyrians. Then the Persians, the Romans, the Mongolians, the Turks—each civilization had its turn, and eventually collapsed in on itself. Maybe the falls were inevitable. But what struck Romney most about the map was how thoroughly it was dominated by tyrants of some kind—pharaohs, emperors, kaisers, kings. “A man gets some people around him and begins to oppress and dominate others,” he said the first time he showed me the map. “It’s a testosterone-related phenomenon, perhaps. I don’t know. But in the history of the world, that’s what happens.” America’s experiment in self-rule “is fighting against human nature.”

“This is a very fragile thing,” he told me. “Authoritarianism is like a gargoyle lurking over the cathedral, ready to pounce.”

Josh Hawley can’t get away with this. 

Every Missourian needs to know that Josh Hawley’s selfishness and political gambling almost cost us our democracy – and if he’s left in charge, there’s no telling what he’ll do next.

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