Let's be clear about something up front: Throughout American history, there have been smart senators and not-so-smart senators. This is just a feature of democracy — sometimes the people in their infinite wisdom are wooed by someone who doesn't really know what they're talking about but looks the part well enough and blam, they're a duly sworn member of the United States Senate.
Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, for all of their foibles, fall into the former camp. They're smart, dedicated men who have climbed their way up the political ladder to reach what's been called the world's greatest deliberative body. The problem isn't that they're not smart — it's that they are clearly convinced that everyone who supports them is deeply stupid.
Just from a résumé standpoint, the intellectual bona fides are there. Hawley, the junior senator from Missouri, was described by one of his history professors at Stanford University as "among the two or three most gifted students I have taught in more than half a century at Stanford." Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, was the state's solicitor general, arguing before the state and U.S. Supreme Courts. He graduated from Harvard Law; Hawley got his J.D. from Yale.
So we've established that both men clearly understand the law and the Constitution. In fact, they've built their careers on this understanding. And yet they're completely willing to tuck away the knowledge they paid good money for over the years in the name of convincing Donald Trump's followers that they will keep the Democrats from stealing his second term as president.
The mechanism for this rescue is convoluted at best. Hawley became the first senator to join House Republicans' objections to the Electoral College certification process. Hawley said in a statement that he was just trying "to highlight the failure of some states" to follow their election laws. (And also, something about interference from Facebook or Google or something? It's unclear.)
Cruz, not to be outdone, blasted out a statement Saturday demanding that Congress "immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states." Unlike Hawley and his solo effort, Cruz got 10 other GOP caucus members to sign onto his extremely vague demands. Objections will prompt debates in the House and the Senate over whether states' electoral votes will count. Depending on the number of challenges, this will slow the certification process for two to 10-plus hours and force several on-the-record votes.
You may notice, though, that at no point in their statements or subsequent media appearances do Hawley or Cruz pitch the actual conspiracy theories that Trump's truest acolytes have spun up as fact even though they have been rejected dozens of times in court. Neither of them seems to think that Hugo Chávez's ghost directed a campaign to commit fraud, nor do they allege that voting machine manufacturers doctored the vote in majority-Black congressional districts. They don't even bother to say which states are disputed — beyond Pennsylvania, in Hawley's case — or what exactly Congress should do once the investigation Cruz wants is complete.
Instead, they've opted to hide behind, as in Cruz's statement, claims that "the allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes" and that "those allegations are not believed just by one individual candidate. Instead, they are widespread." Which is technically, frustratingly true — because they are being spread by none other than President Donald J. Trump. He has been the originator and/or distributor of the vast majority of those supposed concerns both in the run-up to Election Day and after.
Cruz and Hawley are depending on an ouroboros of disinformation, a perpetual motion machine of lies, to obscure how deeply cynical what they're doing is. They know that there is no way for Congress or the vice president to overturn the results of the Electoral College vote. They know where the disinformation is coming from and yet still are trying to scam their constituents into thinking something both know is untrue.
(I hesitate to make this distinction of all the members of Cruz's little gang. Given their track records of credulousness in the face of clear lies from Trump and inability to know what World War II was fought over, maybe Sens. Ron Johnson and Tommy Tuberville do believe the claptrap they're spewing. Who's to say?)
National Review columnist Dan McLaughlin summed it up well, writing that the "Hawley and Cruz efforts lack the courage of their convictions; they can't bring themselves to actually say they believe the election was stolen, and are timed to play out as empty 'failure theater.' They are a sham, not a menace. But today's sham can pave the way for tomorrow's menace."
As Wednesday's count grows closer, there has been no growing swell of support from the rest of the Republicans in the Senate. Actually, it's looking more and more like this is fated to be another version of Cruz's legendary — and extremely pointless — 2013 quasi-filibuster against Obamacare. His 21-hour talkathon wasn't ever going to dismantle Obamacare. It did, however, lead to a 16-day shutdown and help build his status as one of the least-liked members of the Senate. But Cruz played off the affair politically, using it to boost his 2016 presidential campaign, until it didn't help him anymore, at which point he disavowed it.
Now, as then, Cruz and Hawley don't just know that their objections are doomed — they're counting on it, just as they're counting on their supporters to never catch on to the con. As several of their colleagues pointed out, breaking trust in the Electoral College process is more likely to hurt Republicans than Democrats in the long run. And when confronted on Fox News, Hawley stumbled over how to defend the pantomime.
"The divide in the party is whether it's appropriate to pull the pin on an Electoral College grenade, hoping that there are enough responsible people standing around who can shove it back in before they detonate American democracy," Josh Holmes, an outside adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, told The Washington Post.
It'd be funny if it wasn't so dangerous in the long run. There's a difference between doing what you think is right even in the face of failure and knowingly failing in hopes of defrauding your supporters. This effort is clearly the latter, and it's honestly an insult to the people whose trust they're asking for. Worse, it leaves the impression that in another world, with more people with the supposed convictions of real Republicans like Trump, Cruz and Hawley, the effort would have succeeded. Believe what you want, senators — but at least have the decency to tell the truth to your constituents.