Eric Greitens made a bet that he could overcome his past as a disgraced ex-governor—previously accused of sexual assault by his mistress and of physical abuse of his son by his wife—and win a political comeback by running a scorched-earth campaign for U.S. Senate.
On Tuesday night, that bet came due when Republican voters in Missouri went to the polls. They gave Greitens a decisive answer: Nope.
When the primary race was called as a victory for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Greitens was in a distant third place out of the crowded field of Senate hopefuls.
The flameout of this former GOP rising star should prompt sighs of relief from Missouri to Washington, D.C. Many Republicans believed that Greitens’ mountain of baggage made him toxic with the broader electorate—and the only GOP candidate who could squander a safe seat for the party.
The triumph of Schmitt in the primary instead means that Republicans can breathe easy. Though Democrats would like to compete in Missouri no matter who the GOP nominee is, Schmitt is the overwhelming favorite to keep retiring Sen. Roy Blunt’s seat in GOP hands.
When he was asked in March to respond to fresh allegations against Greitens that surfaced in the campaign, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) never explicitly called on him to get out of the race. But McConnell strongly suggested his belief that Missouri voters would reject his candidacy.
Indeed, powerful GOP interests worked hard to ensure that happened. Influential Republican donors and power brokers spent heavily to try and bring Greitens down, with one anti-Greitens super PAC raising $8 million in the course of the primary.
But Greitens was never fully shunned in Trump’s orbit, adding a dimension of intrigue into a primary that ended up becoming a proxy battle between various Republican camps. Trump’s son, Don Jr., and his fiancee Kimberly Guilfoyle were reportedly among the most prominent Republican players pushing for Greitens.
Meanwhile, Schmitt touted the endorsements of a number of Trumpworld luminaries, from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to former Trump press secretary and current Arkansas gubernatorial favorite Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Second-place finisher Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), the only candidate to be preemptively rejected by Trump, was backed by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley.
Though Greitens courted the GOP’s far-right base with deliberately provocative ads—including one he released showing himself “hunting RINOs” with assault weapons during a spate of real mass shootings—it was clear that only a clear Trump endorsement could have vaulted Greitens into the top spot in the primary field.
But Trump withheld his endorsement for the entirety of the campaign. In a fittingly bizarre finish, on Monday night, Trump issued a statement saying that he endorsed “ERIC.” He did not specify which one. Both Greitens and Schmitt fell over themselves to claim that they, in fact, were the Eric that Trump meant to endorse.
The not-quite-endorsement was not enough, clearly, and so Greitens’ defeat on Tuesday could put a definitive punctuation mark on a political career that has unraveled in spectacular fashion.
But his longshot, MAGA-tinged campaign for Senate could leave a lasting mark. For instance, Greitens frequently railed against McConnell on the campaign trail, saying he’d never support him as Senate GOP leader.
Just days before the primary, Schmitt finally weighed in on that question—and pledged to not support McConnell if elected, either.