Senate Candidate Josh Hawley at Stanford: an Academic Columnist with Big Ideas and Big Plans

Image via Josh Hawley

Before Josh Hawley became the Attorney General of Missouri, opened investigations into several of Silicon Valley’s most prominent companies, and entered into the 2018 Missouri Senate race, he was a Stanford undergraduate (class of 2002) who colleagues say was driven and ambitious, to the point of discussing his desire to become the President of the United States.

Additionally, Hawley’s undergraduate columns, written for the Stanford Review, a campus right-leaning newspaper cofounded by Peter Thiel, offer insights into his political views, particularly education policy. Thiel, who has been extensively involved with the Review since he founded it in 1987, has donated several hundred thousand dollars to Hawley’s campaigns. Hawley, who has been the subject of articles wondering if Thiel is improperly influencing his Silicon Valley investigations, says he and Thiel did not meet when he was a Review writer.

Hawley as an Undergraduate

People who knew Hawley at Stanford spoke well of him, though not all Review members at that time remembered him. Brooke Eisele (Stanford ’02) (then Brooke Brody-Waite), a former editor-in-chief of the Stanford Review who overlapped with Hawley, described Hawley as a “very serious, ambitious, smart guy.”

Leo Feler (Stanford ‘02), who also attended Stanford at the same time, said, “he was a great guy and I always knew that he would run for office at some point in time…I think he always wanted to become President. That was always very clear. I think he actually mentioned it at some point that he wanted to become President, that was his ambition…he’s an intellectual, he had academic backing and academic rigor to the way that he thinks.” A Hawley spokesperson declined to comment on whether Hawley currently aspires to the Presidency.

According to a Hawley spokesperson, “Josh rowed crew his first year at Stanford, he volunteered as a tutor in the local community, and he was deeply involved in campus Christian fellowship groups and in his church. He wrote for the Stanford Daily and the Stanford Review, studied abroad his junior year at Oxford, and swam some for a local club team.” Hawley was also the president of the Freedom Forum, which was an organization aimed at reforming Stanford’s core requirements, and he won academic awards and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Hawley’s Political Columns

Hawley wrote four articles for the Stanford Review, a longstanding contrarian student publication generally associated with the campus right wing.

In November 1999, writing about Bill Bradley, a former Democratic U.S. Senator then (unsuccessfully) running for the Democratic nomination for President to the left of Al Gore, Hawley critiqued Bradley’s “moral fervor.” He wrote,

“…In this season of cultural concern, when Americans worry more about values than anything else (as Al Gore understands), self-righteous pronouncements on racial oppression and gay rights activism seem oddly out of place, like disco music at a swing dance…Apparently [Bradley] learned nothing from the abject failure of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs…When pressed, Bradley’s solutions are substantively the same as Johnson’s: the federal government should play a bigger role and spend more money. Been there, done that.”

In one 1999 article Hawley contended that “the university is where generations of students encounter the rich heritage of ideas, innovations, and actions that form the fabric of our civilization. In knowing this woven figure, we find our place within it… to treat Stanford as the job market’s antechamber is to miss the point entirely. Education is more than a preparation for living; it is a requisite for living well.”

Two years later, Hawley, writing about his efforts to change the curriculum of the then-existing Introduction to the Humanities (IHUM) class, argued, “A renaissance in undergraduate education will spring from a core curriculum that looks anew at historically-honored texts — texts once called a ‘canon’ which have served again and again as the starting point for serious discussion, examination, and reform.”

Writing a mock speech he would have liked for the then-new President of Stanford to give to the school, Hawley criticized the policy of race-based affirmative action, saying that “it is high time Stanford, and other institutions of comparable excellence, rethinks its practice of so-called ‘affirmative action.’ For too long we have treated our minority students as playthings-used them to make ourselves feel better and our institution appear compassionate and color-blind. We have paid far too little attention to their own preparation and development; we have neither treated them as equals nor afforded them full respect.”

On the above writings, a spokesperson for Hawley said, “Josh has always loved to write. He started writing opinion columns when he was thirteen years old, and engaging with different arguments and issues through writing was a big part of his education in college and beyond. Twenty years later, he probably doesn’t see every issue the same way he did as a teenager, but he was then and still is a conservative.”

Three of Hawley’s four columns mentioned here were first referenced online by The RiverFront Times, which also found articles he wrote while in high school.

Hawley, the Stanford Review, and Peter Thiel

The Stanford Review was cofounded by Silicon Valley billionaire entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel (Stanford ’89, Stanford Law ’92) in 1987. My reporting from November 2017 describes Thiel’s deep and continuing connection to the Review, including regularly meeting with undergraduate editors to this day and employing many Review alumni at his various companies and venture capital firms.

In recent months, several media outlets have reported that Hawley, who opened an antitrust and consumer protection investigation into Google in November 2017, has received over $300,000 in contributions from Thiel. Coverage noted that Thiel has been quite critical of Google in the past, and that Thiel donated $5,400 to Hawley’s official Senate campaign, the legal maximum, only four days before Hawley opened his investigation into Google.

Also in November 2017, Hawley opened an investigation into a data breach at Uber, a rival to Lyft, where Thiel is an investor. In April 2018, Hawley also issued Facebook, where Thiel is an investor and board member, an investigative subpoena over its own data privacy issues.

When Hawley was an undergraduate in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Thiel was not yet a billionaire, but an cofounder and executive at PayPal, which was located in Palo Alto, just down the road from the university.

Eisele, the former editor-in-chief of the Review who served during this time, said, “There was a joke at one point amongst my generation [of Review staffers] that when you graduate you just automatically go work for PayPal or one of Thiel’s endeavors because it seemed like almost everybody did.” Eisele said that Thiel “was pretty involved” with the Review’s board (Hawley was not on the board) and would occasionally come to dinners with the entire staff.

Thiel was sufficiently connected with the Review that, according to Eisele, Review board members (some alumni and students) received pre-IPO investment privileges with PayPal.

Hawley has denied that his investigation of Google and Thiel’s donations to him are linked. Asked for comment about if Hawley and Thiel met while Hawley wrote for the Review, a Hawley spokesperson said “Josh did not know Peter Thiel at Stanford. They first met over a decade later.” Thiel did not respond to a request for comment.

Hawley is not the only alumnus of the Review to whom Thiel has donated money. In 2016, Thiel donated $5,400, the legal maximum, to the campaign for Grant Starrett (Stanford ‘09), a Republican candidate in Tennessee for the House of Representatives who was a staffer for the Review from 2006 through 2009. In 2017 and 2018, Thiel donated a total of $10,000, also the legal maximum, to the campaign of Michael Toth (Stanford ‘01), a Republican candidate for the 3rd Court of Appeals in Texas, who was the editor-in-chief of the Review in 1998–1999.

Thiel did not respond to a question on if being an alumnus of the Review would positively incline him to contribute to such a person’s political campaign.

Hawley is favored to win the Republican nomination for the Missouri Senate race and, should he be nominated, he will face incumbent Claire McCaskill (D) in the fall.