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Sen. Hawley tramples the 2020 vote in his run to 2024

Sen. Hawley tramples the 2020 vote in his run to 2024
© Greg Nash

Let’s say you’re a would-be 2024 Republican presidential candidate. There’s a crowded field alongside Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMcCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Biden, Trudeau agree to meet next month Trump planned to oust acting AG to overturn Georgia election results: report MORE, the 800-pound gorilla.

What’s your strategy?

Pretty easy to see Republican Missouri Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTrump DHS chief argues for swift confirmation of Biden pick amid Hawley hold Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Ethics complaint filed against Biggs, Cawthorn and Gosar over Capitol riot MORE’s: All you have to do is look at his plan, announced Dec. 30, to formally object to the Jan. 6 Electoral College count certifying Joe BidenJoe BidenMcCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Biden, Trudeau agree to meet next month Fauci infuriated by threats to family MORE’s election.

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Like every Republican hopeful not named “Trump,” Hawley has been pondering how to jump the competition — and what to do about the party’s leader who consumes all the political oxygen in the room?

Hawley’s answer: Tie yourself to Trump’s mast. Trump has an ocean of followers. For Republican primary contenders, it’s sink or sail in that sea.

But suppose Trump runs?

You can’t afford to worry about that if you hanker to be president. You better be willing to spend the next three years — and your donors’ money — aggressively campaigning. If Trump doesn’t run, you’re ready. If he does run, you’ve invested in 2028.

And let’s face it. Trump isn’t all that likely to run. In 2023, he may be enjoying private life while still controlling the GOP; he may be making too much money from owning a new cable network and starring in his own show — or he may be unable to hold campaign rallies if the Adirondack Correctional Facility in upstate New York doesn’t issue weekend furloughs.

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Hawley has his strategy honed. That was clear on Dec. 30 when he heeded Trump’s tweet the day before, lashing out at “weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’” like Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Democrats float 14th Amendment to bar Trump from office Biden signals he's willing to delay Trump trial MORE’s (R-Ky.), for not embracing Trump’s election fraud claims and his desperate hopes to overthrow democracy.

How’s that to be staged? Under the Electoral Count Act of 1887, if there are written objections from one House member and one Senator at the Jan. 6 certification, Congress must debate and vote on the objections.

Ultra-conservative Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksFreedom Caucus chairman blasts 'sensational lies' after Capitol riot Democratic super PAC targets Hawley, Cruz in new ad blitz Trust between lawmakers reaches all-time low after Capitol riots MORE (R-Ala.), a Trump acolyte, is spearheading a group of House members planning to object. Hawley broke ranks with McConnell and became the first Senator to join them, ensuring “a doomed but dramatic congressional fight to overturn Biden's win.”

Why does a doomed fight matter? Because there will be rabid speechmaking followed on Facebook and Fox. Even if the objections fail, the theatrics will accelerate the fire Trump is happy to set, burning down the house of our government’s legitimacy.

On scorched earth, that house is not easily rebuilt.

Sen. Hawley’s purported reasons for creating the needless conflict are so transparently flawed that they give up his game.

First, he said that “some states, including notably Pennsylvania” did not follow their own election laws.

The Supreme Court rejected such claims. The supposed failure to follow Pennsylvania law by counting 10,000 post-election day ballots did not affect the outcome, even if those ballots went uncounted. Biden won by 80,000 votes.

Hawley knows it’s a waste of time to bother with election challenges that have no real-world effect.

He also knows that we know he knows. That’s why he offered a back-up rationale: “At the very least, Congress should investigate allegations of voter fraud and adopt measures to secure the integrity of our elections.”

As a lawyer, Hawley is aware that 50 or 60 courts have rejected the claims of election fraud. The business of courts is determining facts. Hawley’s willingness to abandon facts marks him. His explanations are makeweights for naked opportunism and his real motive: He wants Trump’s blessing should Trump not seek the 2024 Republican nomination.

Hawley, a former Missouri attorney general, might best consider how heeling to Trump’s erratic agenda paid off for former U.S. Attorneys General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' Sessions, top DOJ officials knew 'zero tolerance' would separate families, watchdog finds MORE and Bill Barr. They ended in Trump’s trash bin.

To borrow the wisdom of philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Scott Harshbarger is a former two-term Attorney General of Massachusetts and former president of the National Association of Attorneys General. Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor and Supreme Court advocate. Harshbarger is co-founder of Lawyers Defending American Democracy, and Aftergut serves on its steering committee.