With The Help Of A RINO Sabotage Effort
We ran it earlier in the week, but by all means, if you've already seen it, watch the Eric Greitens ad again (above). Incredibly, neither he-- nor YouTube-- have removed it. We left off with white nationalist and former Iowa congressman Steve King imploring someone to shoot Greitens, "a well established evil person." And with Missouri Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden reporting Greitens to the police after one of the Greitens fan-boys threatened to kill Rowden and Gov. Mike Parson, each of whom meet the Trump Era definition of RINO, even though both are far more conservative than Trump.
Since then, the video has become something of a cause célèbre," at least among mainstream Republicans, who-- now more than ever, seem willing to damage Greitens so badly that even if he still manages to win the GOP primary, Lucas Kunce will beat him in the general. (If you like that idea-- Kunce becoming a senator-- please give generously here.) It's becoming so big a story that the Washington Post assigned three of its top political writers to it yesterday, Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Carol Leonnig. "Republican operatives and donors in Washington and Missouri," they reported, "are privately working to undercut the Senate campaign of Eric Greitens, the ex-governor who resigned in disgrace four years ago, after he released an ad that graphically dramatized hunting down members of his own party. But the opposition is split among factions backing different rivals in the Aug. 2 primary and over disagreements on who should attack Greitens or how." And it gets better!
Others are preparing to pour millions instead into an independent bid by John Wood, a senior investigative counsel on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. And some are concerned that intervening in the race could play into Greitens’s hands by feeding his anti-establishment posturing-- or even prompting former president Donald Trump to endorse him.
Two people familiar with Trump’s reaction to the Greitens ad said the president expressed that he did not appreciate the content and believed it went too far. But Trump has not commented on the ad publicly, and he sometimes tells different advisers different things, depending on the context of the conversation.
Some Trump advisers have also been imploring him not to endorse Greitens, which could be decisive in the right-drifting state. Among those privately appalled by the ad is Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, who has lobbied Trump against making any endorsement in the Missouri Senate race and made a round of calls to allies and advisers this week to express her displeasure with the video.
With the election six weeks away, some Republicans are panicking that a Greitens primary victory could hurt the party’s footing in a must-win state to take back control of the Senate.
“People have been aware that Eric Greitens was an electability hazard for quite some time,” said John Hancock, a former state party chairman who advised the campaign of Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a primary opponent of Greitens’s. “I’m troubled personally that he is the one candidate in this race that could cost the GOP this seat.”
Yet none of the Republican leadership had much desire to say anything publicly on Wednesday. RNC spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said “threats of violence have no place in our politics” but also did not specifically condemn Greitens, saying Democrats should have expressed more concern about the recent threat to Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, declined to comment through a spokesman. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said only that Republican voters should “take a look” at the ad. Trump, through a spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment.
Several people close to Senate leadership said they feared attacking Greitens for the ad would only help him, even as they groused about the notion he could be the nominee. McConnell has told allies he does not have any plans to try to defeat Greitens.
“If someone is going to stop Eric Greitens, that effort is going to have to be soon,” said James Harris, a Republican consultant in Missouri not working on the Senate contest. “I think Eric Greitens is very hard to stop unless President Trump endorses one of the other candidates. And whoever he endorses will win.”
People close to the former president said advisers have argued that endorsing Greitens, who has been accused by his ex-wife of domestic violence, would rekindle news coverage of Trump’s own multiple allegations of sexual assault. Greitens and Trump have both denied those accusations.
“If you’re thinking about running again, why own this guy’s baggage?” one Trump confidant said, summing up an argument that senators, allies and other donors are making to him.
For his part, Greitens has courted Trump’s support by styling himself as a MAGA warrior, naming as his campaign chair Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is engaged to the former president’s namesake son, and frequently appearing on the popular podcast of former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon. Greitens has also employed Boris Epshteyn, a former White House aide who is a regular confidant of Trump’s, per multiple advisers to the former president.
Republican strategists are especially sensitive to any appearance that the attacks are traceable to McConnell, who is at odds with Trump and unpopular with his supporters.
“The discussion: it needs to get done-- now who’s going to do it?” said one person involved in the discussions about how to attack Greitens. “If it’s McConnell coming in, it’s almost like you are inviting Trump to come in and endorse Greitens, which no one wants to see happen.”
Some of the party’s top donors have discussed how to knock off Greitens, according to a Republican operative with direct knowledge of the discussions.
“There are about a dozen major Republican donors who are interested in Eric Greitens not being the nominee. There have been significant discussions about how they go about doing it. There is no lack of donor interest, but it’s a matter of what the right entity is,” this operative said.
On Thursday, a new super PAC called Show Me Values entered the fray, as first reported by Politico. The group plans to air more than $1 million in TV ads against Greitens in the next week, according to a person involved in the group. It’s being funded by donors including Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield, who are past supporters of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), and run by Johnny DeStefano, a former official in Trump’s White House.
Republicans are testing out which line of attack against Greitens could be the most damaging. The messages included his personal controversies, such as an extramarital affair and allegations that he attempted to blackmail the woman with whom he had a relationship, as well as his attendance at the 2008 Democratic National Convention when Barack Obama was nominated. Two people who saw the results said the personal attacks moved voters away from Greitens, but not as much as highlighting his Democratic National Convention trip.
Greitens has largely skated by without any attack ads so far, with just under $74,000 spent by a super PAC aligned with state Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R), who is also running in the primary, according to Federal Election Commission data. Total spending on the race has lagged other competitive Senate primaries, according to data from Medium Buying, a company that places and tracks political ads. In Missouri, campaigning for the Aug. 2 primary typically intensifies after the Fourth of July holiday.
Public and private polls have showed Greitens with a slight lead in the crowded field... [T]he race is fractured enough that the winning candidate could have as little as 28 percent of the vote, a number that Greitens has achieved in recent polls. There is no minimum or runoff.
Groups associated with Schmitt have focused their negative advertising on Hartzler, while Hartzler’s supporters have been aiming at Schmitt. Schmitt has the backing of Americans for Prosperity and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Greitens has received air support from super PACs funded by Republican megadonors Richard Uihlein and Bernie Marcus, FEC disclosures show. Uihlein contributed $2.5 million to a group that has aired ads against Schmitt and Hartzler, and Marcus gave $1 million to an outfit that has backed Greitens.
Greitens’s campaign itself, though, has struggled to raise money... In the 24 hours after the ad posted, the Greitens campaign reported more than 400 new small-dollar donors, a high point for the campaign so far this cycle. Supporters are encouraged to give $25 to the campaign to receive a sticker that says they have a “RINO Hunting Permit.” In a talk radio interview, Greitens said that ad was meant “with a sense of humor and with a sense of fun.”
The Wood bid, which just started raising money on Monday, is based on the premise that Greitens can't be stopped in the Republican primary but that a strong conservative independent campaign (by a life-long Republican with the support of GOP relic John Danforth) will derail him in November. And it probably would-- flipping the seat blue, though... as long as Kunce wins the Democratic primary, which looks almost certain, despite the Democratic establishment putting up some random heiress to run against him.
Scherer, Dawsey and Leonnig further reported that Steven Cheung, a former Trump adviser working for Greitens’s campaign, said in a statement, "We whole-heartedly encourage any independent candidates to get into this race, especially those who are part of the sham January 6th committee. We cannot stress enough the more candidates that get into the race, the better. Missouri is a solid Trump state and Governor Greitens will win decisively."
In his column yesterday, Frank Bruni excoriated the whole idea of Greitens getting away with dismissing the video, which he described as something "a semiliterate adolescent on crystal meth might consider clever," as "just a fun little joke."
Bruni worries that an ad like this would have-- should have-- ended Greitens electoral pretensions "in a normal country in normal times. In ours at this juncture, he probably just had the biggest spurt of fund-raising for his Senate bid yet. Give decency the finger and count your winnings. That’s what Donald Trump taught him. It’s what Trump taught much of the Republican Party, which now confuses outrageousness with intrepidness, offensiveness with independence, provocation with cunning and puerility with defiance. If you’re flying in the face of tradition, you’re your own Top Gun, even if the tradition is, say, democracy. If you’re coloring outside the lines, you’re your own political Picasso, even if the line is truth itself."
Greitens’s ad isn’t just an example of bad judgment. It’s the epitome of it. It comes fast on the heels of the massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde, during a terrifying chapter of intensifying political violence. Early this month, a retired Wisconsin judge was murdered in his home, allegedly by a man in possession of what appeared to be a hit list of both Republican and Democratic political targets, including Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, and the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell. Days later, Maryland police arrested an armed California man believed to be on his way to the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Threats of violent retribution against perceived political adversaries are no longer remarkable, and of course Trump stirred the bedlam on Jan. 6, 2021, by all accounts thrilling to rioters’ “Hang Mike Pence” chants. As witness testimony during the Jan. 6 committee’s hearing on Tuesday showed, elected Republican officials and election workers who dared to speak truth to Trump or were falsely accused of thwarting him came to fear for their physical safety, went into hiding or had their lives upended in other ways.
In this chilling climate, in this loaded context, Greitens’s ad is no joke-- though he tried on Tuesday to dismiss it as one. It’s an act of recklessness so extreme that it’s morally perverse. And yet it may do more to help than to hurt his hunt for a Senate seat. That’s how lost his party is.
Reminder: Lucas Kunce (here). His campaign is all about the working families of Missouri and has nothing to do with this bloody Republican Party strictly self-referential civil war, tearing them apart.