As the Jan. 6 committee’s hearings have unfolded, there have been exceedingly few moments of laughter inside the committee room. Gasps, yes. Tears, definitely. Stunned silence, certainly. But those in attendance for the presentations — congressional staffers, journalists, police officers, family members, et al. — have seen and heard very little that’s amused them.
Sen. Josh Hawley, the Missouri Republican who raised his fist in solidarity with a crowd of Trump supporters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, was forced to flee rioters in new footage presented Thursday night by the House Jan. 6 committee in a televised hearing. Hawley can be seen running through a hallway in the Capitol and then quickly making his way down a staircase with colleagues. The video was taken just hours after the senator was photographed saluting protesters massing at security gates near the building.
At face value, this may not seem especially funny. There was an attack on the Capitol underway, and the far-right Missourian wasn’t the only one who ran out of fear.
But the humor is in the contrast: When Hawley was protected by the police, he was eager to raise a fist and signal his support for the insurrectionists, seeing the extremists as political allies. But as the barriers fell and the Capitol was breached, the same mob the GOP senator was eager to excite became a threat — at which point a scared Hawley literally ran away.
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, an arrogant man with an unhealthy ego created a monster he couldn’t control and ultimately feared.
It’s tempting to send Hawley a copy.
Indeed, let’s not forget the Missouri Republican played a direct role in creating the conditions from which he fled. It was Hawley who helped take the lead in trying to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. It was also Hawley who appeared on Fox News on Jan. 4 and was asked whether he believed Trump would remain president on Inauguration Day 2021.
The senator responded that it would “depend on“ what happened on Jan. 6 — a message many radicals likely noticed.
As regular readers know, the GOP senator was denounced by former allies; prominent businesses distanced themselves from him; several independent media outlets called on Hawley to resign in disgrace; and several of his Senate colleagues filed an ethics complaint against him.
Even many Republicans balked. The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, concluded, “The ambitions of this knowledgeable, talented young man are now a threat to the republic.” Republican Sen. Ben Sasse added, in reference to Hawley, “Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.” Republican Sen. Pat Toomey said Hawley would be “haunted” by his actions.
And that was before the world saw footage of him running away from the mob he’d helped rile up.
Complicating matters, of course, is the frequency with which Hawley has promoted ideas such as “traditional masculine virtues.” He even has a book coming out called “Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs,” and according to its publisher, the Republican uses the book to identify “the defining strengths of men, including responsibility, bravery, fidelity, and leadership.”
I’ll look forward to learning whether Hawley believes running away from a mob of ostensible allies is also a defining strength of men.
Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”