Washington is in an unusually high state of chaos. Impeachment hearings are proceeding dramatically in the House. Donald Trump has taken to tweeting videos about the purported “coup” being staged against his presidency by Democrats, complete with an ominous musical score. But from the view of Senator Josh Hawley’s office, its walls covered in tasteful kid art and a large desk offering up a mugful of crisp yellow pencils, it’s hard to tell that anything is amiss. The Missouri freshman is too busy laying out the future of the Republican Party to pay much mind to the partisan death spiral unfolding around him.
By Hawley’s own account, some conservatives on Capitol Hill have spent the past three years with their eyes tightly shut, waiting for the Trump era to pass and everything to return to normal. “That’s not going to happen,” he told me in an interview this week. If the Republican Party returns to its pre-Trump ideological defaults—standing up for big business over the middle class, prioritizing free-market principles over social issues—“we’re not going to be a majority party, ever,” he said. “That’s just not the future.”
Hawley, 39, became the youngest member of the Senate after a 2018 upset victory over a powerful Democratic incumbent, Claire McCaskill, and he has quickly vaulted himself to prominence in Washington’s elite conservative circles. Along with Senate Republicans such as Ted Cruz, and ex–Trump-administration officials such as Nikki Haley, his name is frequently floated as a potential lead architect of Trumpism after Trump. His speeches around town, including one he delivered on Tuesday evening while accepting an award at the annual gala of the American Principles Project Foundation, a socially conservative public-policy organization, are bracingly defiant of Republican orthodoxy: He rails against income inequality, condemns the policy deference afforded to corporations, and speaks warmly about the civic value of labor unions. He often talks about the “great American middle” being crushed by the decline of local communities, the winner-take-all concentration of wealth, and the inaccessibility of higher education. And he said that the modern Republican Party’s split over competing impulses toward free-market economics and social conservatism has led some conservatives to ignore the effects of their policies on the middle and working class. “It’s time to do away with that,” he told me.