October 3, 2022


CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — Voters here in this struggling city along the Mississippi River, famous for Rush Limbaugh’s childhood and history of devastating floods, sent an unmistakable message Tuesday: They like Eric.

Eric Schmitt, that is.

Missouri’s attorney general has tapped the man widely seen as his primary challenger, disgraced former governor Eric Greitens, despite last-minute hustling from Donald Trump. In a flurry of chaos that baffled national Republicans and local operatives alike, the former president had hedged his bets and endorsed “ERIC” — just Eric, no last name — for the Senate seat now held by Roy Blunt, who is retiring.

It was a Solomonic move, without precedent, but it reflected Trump’s genuine dilemma and a heated debate in his camp about who Eric was the true “MAGA” soldier. Was Greitens, the retired Navy SEAL, a humanitarian Rhodes scholar who once openly admired Barack Obama? Or Schmitt, the Republican incumbent who reinvented himself as an anti-mask and anti-vaccine warrior in preparation for this week’s victory?

As of Friday night, Trump was still asking aides, “What should we do about Missouri?” Son Donald Trump Jr. and Trump’s youngest fiancee, Kimberly Guilfoyle, had lobbied hard on Greitens’ behalf and even argued after Monday’s ambiguous endorsement that the elder Trump Really he intended to pick the former governor, not the attorney general. The 45th president himself never clarified, which allowed him to claim victory either way.

Guilfoyle, according to two people who heard reports of her lobbying efforts, tried to convince Trump that Greitens was really ahead in the race. At some point, they said, he mentioned Big Penguin Poll, a little-known outfit that has a strong presence on Twitter but does not reveal the full names of its owners. Trump rejected the poll by Remington Research Group, a research firm associated with Jeff Roe of Axiom Strategies, which managed Schmitt’s campaign. But Remington’s numbers turned out to be much more accurate than Big Penguin’s.

In the end, as of early this afternoon, more than 45 percent of Missouri Republicans had chosen Eric No. 1, while about 19 percent had chosen Eric No. 2 — a humiliating end for a man once considered by some Republican sponsors as the first in America. Jewish president in the making.

It was also a victory for Republican incumbents in Washington as they battle (often in vain) for control of the party with Trump’s vast alumni network, which has grown across the country to support one candidate or another.

Before finally stepping down as a Republican, Greitens considered a career as a Democrat — lobbying friends for meetings with Sen. Claire McCaskill, for example, and even traveling to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver to watch Barack Obama become the nominee. of the Democrats for the presidency.

In the run-up to his surprise victory in the 2016 governor’s race, Greitens was seeking — and gaining — mainstream national attention, even though he hadn’t served a single day in office. He sat down for interviews with Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart to promote his books, which now read with eerie irony in light of his subsequent fall from grace.

In “Resilience: Hard-earned wisdom to live a better life,” a 2015 book that became a New York Times bestseller, Greitens offers nuggets of wisdom such as “Resilience is cultivated not so that we can perform well in a single instance, but so that we can live a full and thriving life.”

One consultation for the book was by Adm. Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the day of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound — an operation conducted by an elite unit of Greitens’ former counterparts in the Navy SEALs. “Eric Greitens provides a brilliant and brave course of action to help navigate life’s roughest waters,” Mullen wrote.

There were more. JJ Abrams, the director, called Greitens “one of the great Americans of our time.” Tom Brokaw called him “my hero,” while Joe Klein, the former Time magazine writer, devoted half an entire book, “Charlie Mike,” to Greitens and his military exploits. (“Saying that ‘Charlie Mike’ glorifies Greitens is like saying God looks good in the Bible,” wrote a former colleague of Klein’s in a scathing reappraisal of Greitens after his resignation.)

Accolades came easily in a media climate that glorified warriors with PhDs — and Greitens was an unusually charismatic figure whose philanthropic work won him national recognition and lucrative speaking contracts. Time magazine listed him as one of the “100 Most Influential People” (Mullen wrote the short biography, in which he called Greitens “one of the most remarkable young men I have ever met”). Fortune Magazine ranked him as one of the 50 greatest leaders in the worldat No. 37 behind Joko Widodo, then governor of Jakarta, Indonesia, and Wynton Marsalis, the jazz musician.

Greitens’ relentless self-promotion angered some of his fellow Navy SEALs, who began circulating a video highlighting what they claimed were discrepancies between his account of his military service and his actual background.

By the end of that campaign, however, Greitens had alienated all of his one-time admirers. Even Ken Harbaugh, a former close friend and early contributor to his veterans charity, The Mission Continues, recorded a video calling him to leave.

Greitens also made a number of odd choices during the campaign, including his own participation in a Christian baptism ceremony (he is Jewish) and a surprise trip to Finland over the 4th of July weekend, in which he participated in a 400-meter running event that he set as a standard feat of athletic prowess. of Breitbart bright writing of the race he noted that he finished “just seconds behind third and fourth place in the United States,” not adding that he placed 22nd out of 25 competitors.

The defeat of Eric No. according to Politico’s Alex Isenstadt.

McConnell has been covering his involvement throughout the race, mindful of Greitens’ penchant for political jujitsu. The minority leader’s political advisers, who would normally be quick to make a phone call or text, were silent for weeks. A super PAC created to run television ads highlighting the former governor’s history of scandals emphasized his Missouri roots while declining to disclose out-of-state donors.

Less than a week before Election Day, both of Eric’s No. 2 primary opponents said they would not vote to make McConnell majority leader if Republicans take the Senate this fall — a reflection of fervor against of the establishment among grassroots popular forces.

Eric No. 1’s victory was also a relief to the dozens of Missouri Republicans who worked for months to ensure Eric No. 2’s defeat.

As Scott Faughn, the associate editor of The Missouri Times, a conservative political outlet focused on state politics, said in parting remarks at Schmitt’s victory party Tuesday night, “We’re crazy, but not Eric Greitens crazy.”

  • In Pennsylvania, Nevada and now Arizona and Michigan, Republicans challenging the legitimacy of the 2020 election and threatening to overturn the next one are on track to win decisive control of how the election is conducted, Jennifer Medina, Reid Epstein and Nick Corasaniti write.

  • Republican candidates and conservative news outlets seized on reports of voting problems in Arizona on Tuesday to reiterate their case that the state’s elections are broken and in need of reform, even as state and county officials said the allegations were exaggerated, reports Stuart Thompson.

  • Will Sen. Kyrsten Sinema back Democrats’ new climate deal? As usual, he doesn’t say. Emily Cochrane takes a look.

  • At The New York Times Magazine, Elisabeth Zerofsky has an in-depth op-ed on the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank in California that has become a nerve center of the American right.

— Blake

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Want to see more? We would love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.





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