Republicans nationally and in Missouri have expressed considerable fear about the general-election viability of U.S. Senate candidate and disgraced ex-governor Eric Greitens. A self-proclaimed conservative outsider in the mode of Donald Trump, Greitens was forced to resign as governor in May of 2018, just over a year into his tenure, after elected officials in his party stopped defending him against sexual misconduct and corruption allegations. The former allegations were particularly lurid, involving threats, blackmail, and physical abuse of a hairdresser with whom Greitens admittedly conducted an extramarital affair.
The governor defiantly blamed his fall on intra-party critics and, having avoided criminal liability on the issues that brought him down, launched a 2022 Senate race using his supposed persecution as a badge of honor. In keeping with his posture of abrasive opposition toward the political Establishment, Greitens has gone MAGA to the max, as Politico reported shortly before he announced his run:
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.”
“Gov. Greitens is proud to stand with President Trump for America First values. Eric has always fought for other people— as a Navy SEAL and as a governor,” said Dylan Johnson, a Greitens spokesperson. “Eric is talking with friends and fired-up supporters about how to continue his service.”
But Greitens’s alleged bad behavior toward his mistress may not have been unprecedented. Less than two years after his resignation as governor, Greitens and his second wife, Sheena, divorced after a nine-year marriage. Now in a fight for custody of their two sons, Sheena Greitens has claimed in a court filing that her ex-husband physically abused her and the children during and after the crisis that led to his resignation. Per the Washington Post, she accused him of “knocking her down, taking away her cellphone and keys, physically abusing their children and repeatedly threatening suicide if she did not publicly support him during the 2018 scandal that led to his resignation as governor.”
The details are pretty bad, and the alleged abuse may not have ended with the divorce:
She also said that one of her children came home from a visit with Eric Greitens in November 2019 “with a swollen face, bleeding gums, and a loose tooth.”
“He said Dad had hit him; however, Eric said they were roughhousing and it had been an accident,” Sheena Greitens said in the document. The tooth, she added, later died and had to be removed.
These allegations, which an attorney for Eric Greitens has dismissed as “politically motivated” and coming from “a deranged individual,” have gone public at a particularly sensitive time for the Senate candidate. Even though he leads the large Republican field in most polls, he has yet to achieve his prime objective prior to the August 2 primary: securing the endorsement of Donald J. Trump, perhaps thereby heading off an effort by Missouri GOP opponents to consolidate support behind a candidate who can block his nomination (the equally Trumpy Josh Hawley, whom Greitens wants to join in the Senate, has endorsed congresswoman Vicky Hartzler). The situation is likely to remind the 45th president of the embarrassing fiasco of Sean Parnell, another decorated war veteran who won Trump’s Senate endorsement in Pennsylvania before losing a custody battle with his wife (who had alleged domestic abuse) and then dropping out of the race.
Even if Greitens can cast doubt on his ex-wife’s allegations, the question is whether he has so much baggage that he is indeed the one candidate who could lose to a Democrat in this very red state. Before the latest blow to his shaky image, Greitens was running essentially even in the polls with the two leading Democratic candidates, Marine veteran and champion fundraiser Lucas Kunce and former state senator Scott Sifton, while other Republicans led them comfortably. At some point, both undecided voters and Republican opinion-leaders may decide there is far too much smoke to imagine that the man is the victim of false fires set by “the Establishment.” And if Trump dismisses him, he’s gone.