President Trump’s address in Springfield has proven to be a touchstone moment for elected Republicans in Missouri, one of them in particular.
Every statewide GOP office holder on the federal level attended the event at the Loren Cook manufacturing plant which was closed to the public. Representative Billy Long, an early supporter of Trump during last year’s primaries, stepped off of Air Force One along with Trump and Missouri Senator Roy Blunt at Springfield-Branson National Airport Wednesday afternoon.
On the state level, Governor Eric Greitens, Lieutenant Governor Mike Parson, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and State Treasurer Eric Schmitt were all on hand. Conspicuously missing was Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is on a week-long vacation with his family.
Hawley has assembled an exploratory committee for a run at the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Claire McCaskill. He’s received the backing of four former Missouri Republican Senators, quite vigorously so by John Danforth, who called him “very bright”, and a “once-in-a-generation political talent”.
But last Friday, Danforth complicated Hawley’s political world. He chastised Trump in an opinion piece for the Washington Post, referring to him as the most divisive President in history. Danforth, who spent most of two decades representing Missouri in the Senate, encouraged other Republicans to disavow Trump in the column.
Appearing on CNN, New York Times national political correspondent Jonathan Martin called Danforth the “godfather” of the Republican Party in Missouri and a mentor to many in the state GOP, notably Hawley.
Hawley has so far declined to comment on Danforth’s admonishment of Trump. That hasn’t gone unnoticed by former Missouri Republican Party Chair Ed Martin, who confronted Hawley in a tweet, saying if he couldn’t denounce Danforth’s criticism of Trump, then he shouldn’t run against McCaskill.
Conservative St. Louis talk show host Jamie Allman then disparaged Danforth’s column on the air as “awful” and “petty”, and said it would be “close to impossible that I could ever get behind a Hawley candidacy for Senate with John Danforth around”.
About Trump’s Springfield appearance, Allman said “if you’re a Republican and you avoid being there we’re taking your name”. He went on to say “just keep in mind we will be watching to see who goes and who doesn’t go, and who stays away and who will not have the courage to stand up for the president of the United States. So, we’ll kind of keep an eye on that.”
Hawley may have tried to get ahead of the backlash from his absence at the event by praising Trump in a Wednesday morning column he wrote for Fox News. In it, he noted Trump’s visit to Missouri to address the tax code was “welcome news” Hawley also tweeted “Welcome to MO” to the President, saying “Thank you for leading on tax reform”.
Hawley’s future as a Senate candidate is unclear. His absence at President Trump’s event in Missouri has captured a spotlight of its own.