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Image: Eric Greitens
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens in Washington on May 17, 2018.Jeff Roberson / AP file

Why a former governor's comeback bid is making Republicans nervous

Few candidates for statewide office in recent memory have come with the kind of baggage Greitens is carrying in Missouri. No wonder the GOP is nervous.


From time to time, Americans have seen disgraced politicians exit the stage, only to reemerge years later with attempted comeback bids. Missouri's Eric Greitens offers a rather extreme example of the phenomenon.

Former Missouri Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in 2018 amid sexual misconduct and campaign finance allegations, announced Monday that he is running for Senate next year. Framing himself as a "fighter" and a stalwart backer of former President Donald Trump, Greitens unveiled his campaign during an interview on Fox News.

The announcement was not unexpected. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) recently said he'd retire at the end of his current term, but even before the incumbent senator had made his plans clear, Greitens indicated he intended to run against Blunt in a GOP primary. With the senator exiting Capitol Hill next year, the former governor's path became clearer.

That said, few candidates for statewide office in recent memory have come with the kind of baggage Greitens is carrying in Missouri. As regular readers may recall, the Republican was only in office for 17 months, but during his tenure, Greitens was an extraordinarily controversial figure.

There was no shortage of questions, for example, surrounding the Republican's dubious political support from a secretive dark-money non-profit organization. Greitens also struggled with allegations about illegally misusing a veterans charity he created.

But arguably the most serious of the Missouri Republican's scandals was the controversy surrounding his extramarital affair, in which Greitens was accused of, among other things, blackmailing his former mistress following an encounter in which he taped her hands to pull-up rings in his basement.

Once the revelations came to light, the governor, left with little choice, resigned. It was, as we discussed at the time, a remarkable fall from grace for a young Republican who was seen as a rising star -- the Rhodes Scholar and retired Navy SEAL had even registered the domain name.

After stepping down in disgrace, Greitens decided he wanted to be reinstated to military service. The trouble, as the Kansas City Star reported, was "neither the SEALs nor the Navy wanted him back." (Greitens was ultimately allowed to return to the Navy as a reservist after then-Vice President Mike Pence's office intervened on his behalf.)

Some of his would-be GOP colleagues in the Senate apparently don't want him either. Politico reported two weeks ago that leading Republicans fear that Greitens "would be the one GOP candidate who could lose to a Democrat" in next year's open contest.

Republican leaders say they aren't ruling out taking aggressive steps to stop Greitens from winning the nomination, including waging a slashing advertising campaign against him. Party officials — ranging from members of the Missouri congressional delegation to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's political operation — have been united in their worry about the former governor and spent the week having conversations about the situation, according to people familiar with the discussions.

In case this isn't obvious, let there be no doubt: Missouri is a ruby-red state. The days in which the Show Me State was seen as a competitive bellwether -- Bill Clinton won the state twice, for example, and Barack Obama came within 0.1% of winning it in 2008 -- are over. Republicans dominate in Missouri at every level, and the odds of a GOP candidate winning the Senate seat Roy Blunt now holds are quite good. If Greitens wins his party's nomination, the conservative former governor will probably still be the favorite based solely on his ideology and party identification.

But Republican leaders are understandably risk averse, especially after Todd Akin's disastrous Senate campaign a decade ago. (Remember his "legitimate rape" rhetoric?) Greitens' scandals were not normal, and they weren't that long ago. Indeed, launching a comeback bid less than three years after resigning in disgrace is audacious in its own right.

Democrats have no reason to be optimistic about the Missouri race, but if Greitens is the GOP nominee, a door that would otherwise be closed would suddenly appear ajar.