JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – President Donald Trump is headed to Missouri this week, where he’s expected to speak about his proposed overhaul of the federal tax system.
The Republican president is expected to land in Springfield, Mo. on Wednesday afternoon, where he is scheduled to speak at Loren Cook Company, a company that makes ventilation equipment, at 2:30 p.m. The event will be a closed one, with no tickets being sold to the public.
But that doesn’t mean Republican office holders won’t be in attendance. U.S. Senator Roy Blunt’s office has stated that he will attend if he is asked, and Governor Eric Greitens, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, State Treasurer Eric Schmitt, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, and other top GOP officials are expected to be there as well.
But some of Missouri’s top Republicans, however, will not be present.
And perhaps the most notable absence will be that of Attorney General Josh Hawley, as he will be on a weeklong family vacation, according to the Attorney General’s staff.
Hawley is considered to be the favorite to run against U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill in 2018, a race which the President mentioned on Sunday morning while tweeting about his upcoming visit.
“I will also be going to a wonderful state, Missouri, that I won by a lot in ’16. Dem C.M. is opposed to big tax cuts. Republican will win S!,” Trump tweeted.
I will also be going to a wonderful state, Missouri, that I won by a lot in ’16. Dem C.M. is opposed to big tax cuts. Republican will win S!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
And while members of the Missouri GOP are excited about the President’s visit, many are now speculating that officials are looking for ways to avoid going to the event. And with Missouri promising to be a key battleground for Republicans in 2018, such a scenario exposes some potential rifts between the President and his party.
In fact, a recent editorial by former Missouri Senator Jack Danforth called on Republicans to disavow the President.
“To my fellow Republicans: We cannot allow Donald Trump to redefine the Republican Party. That is what he is doing, as long as we give the impression by our silence that his words are our words and his actions are our actions. We cannot allow that impression to go unchallenged,” Danforth wrote.
The former senator is a mentor to Hawley and also one of the several former senators who urged him to run for the Senate seat against McCaskill, penning a letter back in April.
“This letter is to urge you to become a candidate for the United States Senate in 2018… We are convinced you would be the strongest candidate for Missouri’s Senate seat,” the letter read.
That move was viewed by some as a slight to Rep. Ann Wagner, a Republican who had been considering a Senatorial run in 2018. Wagner had been reluctant to get behind the Trump campaign in 2016 and returned several campaign donations from Trump, but eventually voted for him in the end.
Danforth and several others reportedly said their support for Hawley had nothing to do with Wagner, saying it was “not a statement about her at all.” But now, they find themselves in a similar scenario, pulling back some of their support from the President.
But what does this mean for Hawley and a potential run for U.S. Senate? Will Hawley run for the Senate seat, and if so, which side will the Republican lean to? Will he distance himself from the President as Danforth has called on his party to do, or will he embrace the President that won the Show-Me State by a 19-point margin in the last election?
No one seems to know just yet, but the smart player here knows that even if there is a split between Republicans, a good candidate will be playing to all voters, regardless of party affiliation or tribal politics. And Hawley’s 17-point margin victory in 2016 seems to indicate that he can cross the lines to whomever he needs to secure a win.
Donald Trump speaking at CPAC in 2011. PHOTO/Gage Skidmore
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.