Eric Greitens made a bet that he could overcome his past as a disgraced former governor — previously accused of sexual assault by his mistress and physical abuse of his son by his wife — and stage a political comeback by holding a scorched earth campaign US Senate.
On Tuesday night, that bet paid off when Republican voters in Missouri went to the polls. They gave Greitens a resounding answer: No.
When the primary race was called a victory for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmidt, Greitens was a distant third out of a crowded field of Senate candidates.
The flameout of this former GOP rising star should prompt sighs of relief from Missouri to Washington, D.C. Many Republicans believed Greitens’ mountain of baggage made him toxic with the broader electorate — and the only GOP candidate who could to waste a safe place for the party.
Instead, Schmitt’s primary triumph means Republicans can breathe easy. Although Democrats would like to contest Missouri no matter who the GOP nominee is, Schmitt is the overwhelming favorite to continue to unseat Sen. Roy Blunt in GOP hands.
When asked in March to respond to new allegations against Greitens that surfaced on the campaign trail, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) never specifically called for him to drop out of the race. But McConnell strongly indicated his belief that Missouri voters would reject his nomination.
Indeed, powerful GOP interests worked hard to ensure that this happened. Republican donors and influential power brokers have spent heavily to try to unseat Greitens, with an anti-Greitens super PAC raising $8 million during the primary.
But Greitens was never completely out of Trump’s orbit, adding a dimension of intrigue to a primary that ended up being a proxy battle between various Republican camps. Trump’s son Don Jr. and his fiancee Kimberly Guilfoyle were reportedly among the most prominent Republican players pushing for Greitens.
Meanwhile, Schmidt has backed endorsements from a number of Trumpworld figures, from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to former Trump press secretary and current favorite of Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Runner-up Vicki Hartzler (R-MO), the only candidate preemptively rejected by Trump, was endorsed by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley.
Although Greitens flirted with the GOP’s far-right base with deliberately provocative ads — including one he ran showing himself “hunting RINOs” with assault weapons during a series of real-life mass shootings — it was clear that only a clear endorsement of Trump could have eclipsed Greitens in first place in the primary field.
But Trump withheld his support for the entirety of the campaign. In a fittingly odd finish, on Monday night, Trump issued a statement saying he endorsed “ERIC.” He did not specify which. Both Greitens and Schmidt contradicted themselves and claimed that it was actually Eric that Trump wanted to support.
The lackluster endorsement wasn’t enough, clearly, and so Greitens’ defeat on Tuesday could put a definitive end to a political career that has unfolded in spectacular fashion.
But his MAGA-tinged Senate campaign could leave a lasting mark. For example, Greitens often railed against McConnell on the campaign trail, saying he would never support him as Senate GOP leader.
Days before the primary, Schmitt finally addressed the issue — and pledged not to support McConnell if elected.