Former Sen. John Danforth calls supporting Josh Hawley's senate campaign 'the worst mistake I ever made in my life'

  • Former Republican Sen. John Danforth said on Thursday that supporting Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley's 2018 campaign was "the worst mistake I ever made in my life."
  • On Wednesday, a violent mob of pro-Trump insurrectionists overran Capitol Hill during a joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden. 
  • Hawley took a leading role in challenging states' slates of electors and in pushing false and misleading claims of election improprieties. He is now being accused of fanning the flames of the violence. 
  • "Lending credence to Trump's false claim that the election was stolen is a highly destructive attack on our constitutional government," Danforth said in a statement earlier this week. "It is the opposite of conservative; it is radical."
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Former GOP Sen. John Danforth of Missouri said on Thursday that supporting Josh Hawley's 2018 senate run was "the worst mistake I ever made in my life."

This sharp rebuke comes on the heels of pro-Trump rioters laying siege to the Capitol on Wednesday while Congress was certifying President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College votes. During the joint session, Hawley led efforts to formally object to states' slates of electors. 

"Supporting Josh and trying so hard to get him elected to the Senate was the worst mistake I ever made in my life," Danforth told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Tony Messenger. "Yesterday was the physical culmination of the long attempt (by Hawley and others) to foment a lack of public confidence in our democratic system. It is very dangerous to America to continue pushing this idea that government doesn't work and that voting was fraudulent."

The spotlight on Hawley, a likely 2024 presidential candidate, has grown even brighter over the past few days after he became the first GOP senator to publicly state that he would back a challenge to the election results, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky warned against only days earlier.

"I cannot vote to certify the electoral college results on January 6 without raising the fact that some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws," Hawley said on December 30. "At the very least, Congress should investigate allegations of voter fraud and adopt measures to secure the integrity of our elections. But Congress has so far failed to act."

On Saturday, a group of Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another likely 2024 candidate, announced their intention to challenge the Electoral College certification. Republicans allied with President Donald Trump continue to make or entertain debunked allegations of voter fraud in key states that Biden flipped to the Democratic column in 2020, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

The Trump campaign unleashed a plethora of unsuccessful lawsuits in lower federal courts and the Supreme Court since the November election.

On Wednesday, the president spoke at a rally in Washington, DC, doubling down on baseless claims of mass voter fraud and election irregularities, and insisting that he didn't lose the race — it was stolen from him. After galvanizing his base to taking action on his behalf, Trump returned to the White House while a violent mob of his supporters marched to Capitol Hill and breached the building.

Both houses of Congress were debating an objection to Arizona's electors but the disruption forced them to go into recess. Vice President Mike Pence and hundreds of lawmakers and aides were evacuated from the chambers as rioters overtook the Capitol and committed widespread property damage. 

Four people died as part of the violence — one woman was shot by a law enforcement official, while the other three died of medical emergencies. 

When the House and Senate were finally able to go back into session on Wednesday night, Hawley followed through with his plans to object to states' Electoral College votes, unlike other senators who dropped their objections following the violence. 

After giving a speech on the floor in support of the objection to Arizona, Hawley later joined an objection to Pennsylvania's electoral votes. Hawley objecting to Pennsylvania continued to draw out the proceedings into the early hours of Thursday, forcing both chambers to again separate and vote on the Pennsylvania objection. 

Now, some of Hawley's colleagues are accusing him of directly contributing to the violence by pushing misleading and dishonest arguments that the election was compromised. 

Danforth criticized Hawley's plans to object to electoral votes on Monday, two days before the Electoral College vote in Congress. 

"Lending credence to Trump's false claim that the election was stolen is a highly destructive attack on our constitutional government," Danforth said in a statement. "It is the opposite of conservative; it is radical. As one friend asked me, 'What are my grandchildren to think of America if they are told that elections are fraudulent?'"

Danforth, who represented Missouri in the Senate from 1976 to 1995, was a pivotal figure in Hawley's successful campaign against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, leading an effort to get Hawley to enter the race when he was still a newly-elected Missouri state attorney general.

Deciding to speak out after receiving inquiries regarding Hawley's actions, Danforth emphasized the need for national unity in the wake of rampant election disinformation.

"At a time of extreme polarization the populist strategy is to drive America even farther apart by promoting conspiracy theories and stoking grievances," he said in the statement. "We must reject this strategy and reclaim America's historic purpose of holding our diverse nation together as one people."

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