It’s been over four months since the world learned that Missouri’s governor allegedly tied a woman up in his basement, took a nude photo of her without consent, and threatened to release it publicly. Two months since he was indicted on a felony invasion of privacy charge for that incident. A week since the woman’s graphic version of the 2015 events — including the claim that he pressured her into a sex act while she sobbed on the floor — was released in disturbing public testimony. And days since Missouri’s top leadership told him to resign following news that he may face an unrelated felony charge for matters involving a charity he founded.
But Eric Greitens is still sitting in the governor’s mansion in Jefferson City, with no plans to step down. The Republican governor admits he had an affair but insists he committed no crime, and that he’ll be vindicated in court.
But the Missouri GOP sees things differently: Increasingly, it views Greitens as an anchor, defiantly dragging the entire state party down with him.
State Republicans worry that the longer Greitens spends firing off defensive tweets and huddling with his defense lawyers, the more it will split their party and demoralize Republican voters, dooming the party’s chances in the November midterms. Foremost among the GOP’s concerns is the state’s closely watched U.S. Senate race, which could help determine control of the chamber.
“What I know from the data is that this information flow is awful for Republicans,” Missouri GOP strategist James Harris told TPM. “They’re not talking about efforts to lower taxes in the state, trying to improve education. Instead everything that’s on TV is about deviant sexual activity, assault, coerced sexual acts. It’s not good.”
Greitens’ approval numbers in Missouri are now underwater. And there’s possible precedent for Greitens’ scandals hurting other Missouri Republicans. In February, Democrats won a state assembly race in a deep-red district, leading some state GOPers to point the finger at Greitens.
But the impact could be much greater. For the GOP, the biggest risk is the potential damage to Attorney General Josh Hawley’s campaign against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) whose poll numbers have improved this spring.
Hawley, a one-time Greitens ally, has distanced himself from the governor. Last week, he called for Greitens to resign or be impeached. On Tuesday, Hawley announced that he’d turned over to the St. Louis Circuit Attorney evidence from his own probe that he said showed Greitens illegally used a donor list from his veterans’ charity to raise money for his 2016 campaign.
But McCaskill and state Democrats are accusing Hawley of going easy on Greitens for too long.
“Hawley was asleep at the wheel,” McCaskill’s campaign said in response to the press conference, noting that the allegations about the charity had been public since October 2016.
A top Missouri Democratic Party official accused Hawley in a statement of looking “the other way to protect his friend and donor until it became politically untenable for him to do so.”
Greitens hasn’t made Hawley’s situation any easier. The governor filed a restraining order against the attorney general this week, accusing Hawley of prejudging his guilt in the blackmail matter. He also put out a dismissive statement calling Hawley “better at press conferences than the law.”
“It is unfair to attack the attorney general for doing his job,” Harris said, likening Greitens’ scandals to a “bunch of weights tied around” Hawley as he campaigns. “Hawley didn’t commit these potential crimes. All these things originated in the governor’s basement.”
Lawmakers, who had a tense relationship with Greitens even before the scandals broke, are now rushing to put space between themselves and the governor. GOP House leadership this week released a joint statement saying that “the time has come” for his resignation. In a searing statement of his own, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard accused Greitens of causing “tension, conflict and hostility” during his time in office and pressed for impeachment proceedings to begin “immediately.”
Lawmakers resented Greitens’ brusque attitude and his calls to root out the corrupt GOP political establishment in Jefferson City. They criticized his hypocrisy for campaigning on transparency and good government while raking in hundreds of thousands in dark money donations. The former NAVY Seal and Rhodes scholar’s naked political ambition also grated. No one quite forgot that he’d bought up domains like EricGreitensForPresident.com years before he was ever elected to public office.
The state GOP’s distaste for the governor was evident in the comments political strategists made to TPM. He’s a “narcissist” and “sociopath” guilty of “moral turpitude,” they said.
Even Greitens’ top donor has ditched him. Roofing company magnate David Humphreys, who gave over $2 million to the governor’s 2016 campaign, cut ties last week after the House released a report in which Greitens’ former lover testified that he forced her to give him oral sex while she cried, slapped her on multiple occasions, and threatened her.
Still, most GOP lawmakers waited to call for Greitens to step down until this week’s barrage of bad news. Dave Robertson, chair of the political science department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said that’s likely because they feared alienating their base, which is closely allied with President Trump and turned out for Greitens in significant numbers.
“Like Republicans everywhere in the country, Republicans here — including in rural areas where many of the leaders of the state legislature are from — are very wary of moving faster than the people,” Robertson said.
What remains to be seen is how much damage Greitens has already done.
“If the governor is removed quickly, the impact will be less noticeable,” Missouri GOP consultant Scott Dieckhaus said. “If he is allowed to linger in the Governor’s Mansion, I think it will have a catastrophic impact on Republican elections this fall.”