Analysis: Are Republicans about to blow a Missouri Senate seat?

Donald Trump carried the state by 15 points in 2020 and by nearly 19 points in 2016. The last time a Democrat won a Senate race in the state was a decade ago.

But not all is as it seems in Missouri, largely due to the candidacy of Republican Eric Greitens.

Greitens is the state’s former governor who resigned in May 2018 following a series of ethical lapses and sexual assault allegations. He did not admit any legal wrongdoing and the criminal charges against him were dropped.

Since then, he has staged a political comeback, pitching himself as a Trump-style conservative fighting the liberal media and other “awakened” forces in the country. That positioning, plus the identification of his residual name from his time as governor, has made him a leading candidate in the race to replace outgoing Senator Roy Blunt. (Several other GOP candidates are running, including Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt.)

Greitens’s campaign was a problem for Republicans even before the events of the last few weeks. Greitens’ ex-wife accused him of physically abusing her and her children.

“In early June 2018, I feared for the safety of myself and our children in our home, which was quite isolated, due to Eric’s unstable and coercive behavior,” Sheena Greitens said, according to court records filed last month. “This behavior included physical violence towards our children, such as hitting our three-year-old son in the face on the table in front of me and pulling him by the hair.”
And CNN reported Tuesday that in a separate court filing, Sheena Greitens said she has photos and other documentation of her ex-husband’s abusive behavior. Lawyers for Eric Greitens have denied allegations of abuse by Sheena Greitens.

It’s all a mess, and one that lacks an easy solution for Republicans.

The establishment folks within the party, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have made it abundantly clear that they must avoid nominating candidates who cannot win a general election. In an interview with Punchbowl News last week, before the latest Greitens news broke, McConnell warned that Missouri’s Senate race “could end up being competitive,” adding, “I better nominate a credible and fully capable candidate or you’re in trouble.

The problem? McConnell may not be able to stop the potential disaster of Republicans electing Greitens in the Aug. 2 primary.

Greitens has presented himself, from the beginning of the race, as an outsider in the Trump mold. He has publicly said that, if elected, he would not support McConnell as leader of the GOP in the Senate, referring to the Kentucky Republican as “RINO,” or “Republican in name only.” in a recent tweet.
That stance has endeared him to Trump, as Politico reported last month. Here is the key:

“Trump, who in the past has privately criticized the former governor over the scandal that led to his downfall, is telling people he is open to backing Greitens, despite fears among other powerful Republicans that the Missouri Republican is the only Republican candidate who could potentially lose. the seat in November.

Given that criticizing McConnell (and the party establishment more generally) seems to be a top concern for Trump these days, it’s hard to categorically rule out the former president getting involved in the primaries on behalf of Greitens.

To many national Republicans, this feels, to quote the famous philosopher Yogi Berra, like deja vu all over again.

In 2012, shortly after winning the Republican nomination to face Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, then a Rep. Todd Akin claimed that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant because their bodies prevent it from happening.

A national controversy ensued, leading to Akin being severely paralyzed for the remainder of the race. McCaskill easily beat him 55% to 39%, even though Mitt Romney comfortably carried Show Me State at the top of the list.

At the moment, it looks like Missouri Republicans may be recreating that mess all over again. Greitens shows absolutely no signs of dropping out of the race and is working to paint the latest accusations as part of a plot by the establishment to defeat him.
An endorsement from Trump could be important here. If the former president endorses Greitens, it is likely to be game over for the primaries. But if Trump intervenes on behalf of another candidate, he praised Long in a statement last month — that could take the momentum away from Greitens.

Does Trump really want to help McConnell? If past is prologue, the answer is “no”.

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