Lexington, Missouri, was once the scene of a famous battle in the American Civil War. In 2021, a new battle is taking place in this conservative heartland. A battle for the soul of the Republican party. That battle has now erupted in full force after the storming of the Capitol.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who grew up in Lexington, is central to this fight. He led the opposition to the presidential election results in the Senate last week. Like Trump, he reiterated baseless allegations that the Democrats stole the election and called on Congress to tackle voter fraud. Even after the storming of the Capitol, he held on to this lie.
The latter in particular caused bad blood, also with his own party. Party leaders in his home state called him an “insult to Missouri.” Former Republican Senator John Danforth, who was a mentor to Hawley for many years, now deeply regrets helping his successor win Senate seat in Missouri. “It was the biggest mistake of my life.”
The Kansas City Star, one of Missouri’s largest regional dailies, wrote a scathing comment. “Hawley has blood on his hands,” the newspaper headlined. “We have all seen the photo in which Hawley, with a clenched fist, greeted the Trump supporters outside the Capitol just before the Senate session,” said Kansas City Star political commentator Melinda Henneberger in an interview with the NOS.
“Hawley therefore bears a great responsibility for the violence. He was the first senator not to recognize the results of the presidential election. He must have known that his words could lead to violence.”
Henneberger therefore comes with a warning. “This violence will continue unless the Republicans say, these elections weren’t stolen. Because that was what drove what happened. It would be better for the Republican Party and American democracy if they recognize that Joe Biden has the election fair. won. “
For the first time, cracks now seem to be emerging in the Republican line of defense around Trump. For four years, the president, unopposed, had an iron grip on his party. But last week’s events exposed growing divisions among Republicans.
Ten Republicans in the House of Representatives voted with the Democrats for Trump’s impeachment, which was unthinkable until recently. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly had it all with the president and would have no objection to Trump’s impeachment. Even his staunchest supporters in Congress recognize that the president is at least partly responsible for the violence.
But the storming of the Capitol also exposes something else: a growing rift between the party establishment on the one hand and the lower party ranks, and the Trump supporters, on the other. Take David Lightner, the chairman of the Republican Party branch in Jackson County, the Missouri region where Hawley grew up. He remains squarely behind the president. “I still believe that the Democrats stole the election. I will never recognize Joe Biden as the rightful president.”
This is what the storming of the Capitol looked like last week:
He therefore praises Senator Josh Hawley’s position. “Why am I defending him? Because he did exactly what I wanted him to do: he objected to votes cast illegally.”
Lightner acknowledges that there is nothing standing in the way of Joe Biden’s inauguration, but he is convinced that Trump will continue to play a major role in American politics. “He has pushed the country in a new direction and created a massive movement. He is an incredible personality and a brilliant politician.”
Tens of millions of Republican voters agree with him. Trump’s grip on the game may have loosened after last week, but his influence remains strong. Commentator Henneberger agrees. “I think almost all Republicans in Congress would be secretly happy if Trump disappeared. It’s not Trump they fear, but his supporters.”
And that it is now the party’s dilemma. Many Republicans in Congress would prefer to get rid of Trump as soon as possible. But they don’t stand a chance in elections without the support of their supporters.