Republicans plotting to reconquer the U.S. Senate in 2022 don’t have much of a margin for error. They have at least five open seats to defend, and three of them (plus Ron Johnson’s seat in Wisconsin, which may or may not become open) are rated as competitive by the Cook Political Report. Only two Democratic-held seats are considered competitive by Cook. So the last thing the GOP needs is to blow a Senate race in a solidly red state. They did exactly that in 2012, a year when they fully expected to flip the Senate in their direction. Instead they lost races in Indiana and Missouri, thanks to Senate nominees who made stupid and extremist remarks about abortion policy.
The bright-red flashing sign of possible self-destruction ahead is coming from one of those states, Missouri, where two-term incumbent Republican Roy Blunt is retiring next year. At this point it’s not so much culture-war radicalism that’s the problem (thought that could come later), but the specter of disgraced former governor Eric Greitens making a comeback bid.
Greitens was forced to resign in 2018, thanks to dual scandals: one involving campaign-finance irregularities, and the other a lurid sex scandal in which he allegedly blackmailed and sexually assaulted a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. Criminal charges were dropped in both cases at about the time he resigned, and Greitens, of course, has depicted himself as a victim of bipartisan group of elected officials who all pretty much agreed they’d just as soon the self-proclaimed outsider would stay outside of politics for the rest of his life. But no: On March 22 he announced a bid for Blunt’s open Senate seat. His comeback strategy has been very clear: He claims to be the Trumpiest Trump supporter in the Show Me State, as Politico observed:
Greitens has been a frequent guest on former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon’s podcast and is being encouraged to run by Trump allies, including former NYPD Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and former White House aide Andrew Giuliani, the son of Trump attorney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Boris Epshteyn, another ex-Trump aide, recently took to Twitter to call Greitens a “MAGA Champion.”
But Greitens has already drawn an opponent who will challenge his credentials as Trump’s biggest Missouri ally: Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who announced his candidacy not at some Missouri event but during an appearance on Fox & Friends:
Schmitt touted that “as attorney general, I’ve spent my time defending President Trump and the America First agenda and all the prosperity that came with that – secure borders, energy independence, more opportunities for more Americans. And now, I’m spending my time pushing back against Joe Biden as he tries to dismantle that in, really, a betrayal of the American worker.”
And he warned that “increasingly, it feels like our culture and our country is slipping away, and all the levers of power in Washington, D.C., are tilted towards the Democrats.”
It’s no accident that Schmitt sounds like another Trumpy Missouri Republican, junior Senator Josh Hawley. He’s a political ally of the fiery right-wing populist, who in turn is not at all friendly toward Greitens, whom Hawley urged to resign in 2018.
For all the disdain Greitens has aroused among both Republicans and Democrats in his state, he seems to have a significant base of support. An independent poll of Republicans back in December showed him winning 32 percent of the vote against Blunt (who had 43 percent) before his retirement announcement. And an internal poll by Greitens’s campaign (taken by, ahem, Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio) showed the former governor leading Schmitt by a 48 to 11 margin among primary voters.
The MAGA-magnitude of the former governor’s candidacy just increased significantly in volume, as former Fox News personality and Donald Trump Jr. paramour Kimberly Guilfoyle was named “national chair” (whatever that means) of the Greitens’s 2022 campaign.
The GOP Senate field is probably not complete, since three Missouri GOP House members (Billy Long, Jason Smith, and Ann Wagner) are exploring runs. And guess what? Long and Smith have their own ties to Trump.
The big fear of Senate Republicans is that a large field will enable Greitens to win the nomination and give the normally outgunned Missouri Democrats a chance. The potential Democratic field includes Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas and possibly even former governor Jay Nixon. A Republican primary that becomes a competition focused more on the needs of Mar-a-Lago than of Missouri could help Democrats score another upset like the one that lifted Claire McCaskill over Todd Akin in 2012.