Move Over Squad, Here Comes the Pride of the Senate
By Seamus Brennan – March 31, 2022
For decades, in the eyes of many conservatives, establishment Republican candidates and officeholders have remained steadfastly beholden to their own political fortunes and outdated dogmas at the expense of the needs and values of the Americans they have claimed to represent. But with the rise of the Tea Party—and later the ascendancy of President Donald Trump’s America First agenda—that all started to change. Among the most notable Republicans who have bucked this establishment are Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Rand Paul (R-KY). These senators, and others like them, represent a GOP grounded in courage, principle, and public service—all attributes that conservatives are hopeful their party will embrace in 2022.
Since he was elected to the Senate in 2018, Josh Hawley has consistently stood on the front lines of some of the most contentious cultural and political disputes of the last several years and has repeatedly made clear that he understands the stakes of the present moment. “For years the politics of both left and right have been informed by a political consensus that reflects the interests not of the American middle, but of a powerful upper class and their cosmopolitan priorities,” Hawley remarked at the 2019 National Conservatism Conference.
Hawley’s chief legislative priority throughout his time in the Senate has been breaking up Big Tech giants. In Hawley’s view, these Big Tech behemoths have been granted permission by “Washington politicians” to “censor political opinions they don’t agree with and shut out competitors who offer consumers an alternative to the status quo.”
Hawley has also been forthright about his disappointment with ostensibly conservative members of the Supreme Court when they fail to abide by the constitutional principles they vowed to uphold. Following the Court’s controversial Bostock v. Clayton County decision, for instance, in which the Court bizarrely held that “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” were protected classes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (even though the law itself made no mention of such characteristics), Hawley took to the Senate floor to denounce the decision as “the end of the conservative legal movement”—signaling a significant break with other Republican members who instead opted to remain silent on the matter.
Hawley’s colleague Tom Cotton, who has served as the junior senator from Arkansas since 2014, has similarly been a fierce advocate for a more assertive Republican Party that knows how to effectively take the offensive. “We’re the party of the common man, the worker, the farmer, the cop on the beat,” Cotton recently said at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. “Unlike Democrats, we remember the forgotten man.”
During the riot-filled summer of 2020, when so-called “moderate” Republicans like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah were seen proudly linking arms and marching with supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement (which had played a role in tormenting America’s cities with looting and arson for weeks on end), Cotton took to the pages of the New York Times to publish a strongly-worded op-ed calling for a restoration of law and order. In the op-ed, Cotton called for “send[ing] in the troops,” even if “many politicians prefer to wring their hands while the country burns.”
Predictably, the op-ed earned Cotton an endless flood of vitriol from the political left and the media class: as a result of the left’s uproar, the Times eventually added an editors’ note at the front of the article, which claimed the piece “should not have been published.”
Some longer-serving members of the Senate have also become forceful leaders of the modern conservative movement in recent years. Ron Johnson, the senior senator from Wisconsin, and Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky—both of whom have served since 2011—have been strong Republican voices against draconian COVID-19 mandates and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s domineering role in the federal government’s COVID response.
Johnson was among the first in Congress to demand answers on the origins of COVID. He was consequently dismissed by the New York Times as a “foremost amplifier of conspiracy theories and disinformation” for suggesting the virus originated in a Chinese lab—even though, of course, such “conspiracy theories and disinformation” have since turned out to be not only plausible, but likely. Rare was the Republican who backed Senator Johnson, even once it became clear that China was hiding something about the origins of the virus. The Wisconsin Republican has established himself as a fighter—less flashy than some of his colleagues, but one who has earned the respect and gratitude of conservatives everywhere.
Similar to Johnson’s courage on COVID, Rand Paul—himself a licensed physician—introduced legislation to repeal Washington, D.C.’s vaccine mandates and has repeatedly clashed with Fauci during committee hearings, indicating loudly and clearly that he will not kowtow to, in his words, the “unscientific” and capricious rules promulgated by Fauci and other unelected medical bureaucrats. Johnson and Paul have also taken the lead on holding Biden accountable by launching investigations into the Biden family’s foreign connections and being some of the most vocal opponents of the administration’s progressive agenda.
Ultimately, Republicans like Senators Hawley, Cotton, Johnson, and Paul are slowly but successfully leading the Senate out of the establishment mold that has for too long hindered the party’s ability to effectively represent its constituents. And so far, a handful of promising Republican candidates for Congress like Blake Masters (Arizona), J.D. Vance (Ohio), and Joe Kent (Washington) have embraced this model of conservatism. If recent polling of these candidates and others like them is any indication, it may soon be that an America First platform is the rule, rather than the exception, for elected Republicans.