Eric Greitens didn’t expect to be here. Years ago, when he was a Democrat, Greitens didn’t expect to be a former Republican governor, reviled by the state legislature, who was ousted from office after a sordid and shocking sex scandal. A few months ago, Greitens, when he was the front-runner in the Republican primary for Senate in Missouri, thought his quest for redemption had reached a new phase. It seemed clear, then, that he would be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate for Missouri.
That’s all changed in the last week or so. New polling shows Greitens sinking. In addition, while no other candidate has gotten Donald Trump’s endorsement, Greitens hasn’t either. It’s always possible Trump could swoop in in the final few days before the August 2 primary and back Greitens, something the former governor has been trying to nudge along from the beginning of the primary. But Trump has been hesitant to endorse Greitens—not because of any of the scandals Greitens was responsible for, like allegedly groping and hitting a woman, but because he resigned from office, which to Trump made him a loser. In the final days of the race, Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, both Greitens allies, are still pushing for Trump to endorse the former governor, according to a longtime Republican strategist.
Greitens’s electoral demise on primary day isn’t assured, but his opponents in recent days have seen extremely promising polling that the former governor’s prospects are sinking. An anti-Greitens super PAC has been airing a barrage of damning ads reminding voters of his past scandals and highlighting new details of his divorce and alleged abuse of his children, according to his ex-wife. That super PAC, called Show Me Values, is led by Johnny DeStefano, who served in the Trump White House as a counselor to the president and also director of the office of public liaison.
“He’s killed him,” Missouri-based Republican strategist James Harris said of DeStefano and his super PAC’s efforts. From “the day Eric Greitens announced his candidacy until six weeks ago, I believed Eric Greitens would win.”
Since the ad blitz began, Greitens has fallen from first place to somewhere around third or fourth, while Attorney General Eric Schmitt (recently endorsed by Senator Ted Cruz) enjoyed somewhat of a surge to front-runner status.
Greitens’s loss in this primary would mark the end of his stratospheric rise in politics by crafting a résumé you’d expect to see in a trashy action thriller. Greitens was born a Democrat. His education was first at Duke University and then at Oxford for a master’s and a Ph.D. From there, he served in the Navy SEALs, rising to be a lieutenant commander, and did tours, among other places, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Surveying the political landscape and factoring in his own electoral prospects, in 2015 Greitens switched his party affiliation, making the announcement in an op-ed for Fox News. Greitens ran for governor in 2016 in a multicandidate primary. He ended up winning the nomination, beating the state’s lieutenant governor, its former speaker of the House of Representatives, and a former candidate for Senate in 2012. He beat Attorney General Chris Koster, the Democratic nominee, in the general election 51–45 percent.
Greitens’s whole pitch from the start was that he would be a sort of transformative Republican, unafraid to take on Democrats, establishment Republicans, and anyone else who got in his way. His tenure as governor of Missouri was characterized by his feuds with the Republican-controlled state legislature, allowing speculation that he might run for president in 2020—regardless of what Trump did—and being dogged by a campaign finance scandal.
Greitens’s downfall from the governorship was rooted in a sex scandal centered on his mistress accusing him of a forced sexual encounter in his basement. Graphic sworn testimony of the encounter became public. It described how Greitens blindfolded her, tore her clothes off, and then took a photo without her consent to use as blackmail in case she ever came forward about the affair. Around that time, St. Louis prosecutors filed separate criminal charges over how Greitens used his donor list. Greitens maintained his innocence in both cases, but pressure kept mounting. It didn’t help that even though Republicans controlled the legislature, they despised him. He resigned in the summer of 2018.
Until recently, it wasn’t clear what Greitens did in the year after he resigned. Just two days ago, The Kansas City Star published an extensive report detailing just what he got up to. The report described the dissolution of Greitens’s marriage and how he indulged in his grievances that he was politically wronged and was the victim of a witch hunt. Greitens would reemerge in the 2022 Senate race, competing with a handful of other candidates for the nomination. The antagonism among other Missouri Republicans—including Senator Josh Hawley and former Senator Jack Danforth, an institution in Missouri politics—remained, so Greitens ran as a pro-Trump outsider. He filled his campaign with Trump acolytes, including making Guilfoyle, Don Jr.’s girlfriend, his national finance chair.
Trump has stayed out of fully endorsing in the race, so none of the four major candidates—Greitens, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, Congressman Billy Long, and Schmitt—could claim they were the real Trump candidate. The absence of a Trump endorsement allowed Greitens to enjoy front-runner status for much of the race, alongside Schmitt.
Since he jumped into the race, Greitens has been able to amass a following by pitching himself as a favorite punching bag of the left and mainstream media. He ran an ad featuring him hunting RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) and Democrats. He has promised to hamstring Mitch McConnell unless the Senate Republican leader follows through on Trumpian promises to build a wall along the Southern border. He’s called other establishment Republicans like Karl Rove “disgusting.”
The primary hasn’t been heavy on policy details, but Greitens’s time in the governor’s mansion and his statements on the campaign trail make clear he would be a very conservative Republican senator. When in office, he signed laws strengthening restrictions on abortion. He’s also framed his candidacy as one that sides with police officers and against antifa. “I was honored to serve the people of Missouri as their governor,” Greitens said in interview with Fox News. “We took on the establishment, we killed a politicians’ pay raise, we ended a corrupt tax-credit program.”
What’s really damaged Greitens is details from his ex-wife, Sheena Chestnut Greitens, about how he was abusive to her, cuffed one of his children, and was prone to bouts of rage. Greitens has maintained his innocence. He’s also had to testify behind closed doors in the last few weeks as part of an ongoing custody battle over their children.
The Show Me Values super PAC ads have gone right to the dark heart of it all. One features clips of reports about Greitens facing felony charges and the allegations of abuse from his family. Another ad has a woman reading part of Chestnut Greitens’s affidavit that said, “I became afraid for my safety and that of our children due to Eric’s unstable and coercive behavior. He said ‘Dad had hit him.’ I wanted to protect our children because I was afraid of what Eric would do.”
There is a Democratic primary in this Senate race and two candidates vying for that party’s nomination, Lucas Kunce and beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine. Kunce has built a sort of grassroots army of progressive-leaning followers. Valentine is a nurse and heir to the Anheuser-Busch fortune (a.k.a. a Missouri dynasty). The race is close, with a recent poll showing Busch Valentine slightly ahead.
The general view is that their chances are a lot better if Greitens gets the nomination. There’s precedent for the GOP blowing a Senate seat in the state. When Republicans nominated then-Congressman Todd Akin, a conservative Republican with a history of making incendiary comments who once spoke of victims of “legitimate rape,” it allowed Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, to win another term. McCaskill’s team to this day will admit its prospects were far worse if another Republican had gotten the nomination. The situation is similar here. Democrats’ prospects of retaking a Senate seat in Missouri are much better with Greitens as the GOP nominee. But it’s looking more and more like they won’t get that lucky, and Missouri, and America, will be rid of Eric Greitens for good.