The most powerful force in the universe isn’t compound interest. It’s not the terrifying and invisible push and pull between subatomic particles. It’s the force that holds in place the ego of a morally bankrupt man who believes himself worthy of public office.
For a supercharged example of political fuckboy self-delusion, look no further than the disgraced former governor of Missouri, Eric Greitens. Greitens resigned from office in 2018 after being charged with felony invasion of privacy in the case of a former mistress who alleged he blackmailed her with the threat of revenge porn. If that wasn’t enough, Greitens was shortly thereafter charged with felony computer tampering, after allegedly misusing his own charity’s database in order to scrape a list of potential donors to his gubernatorial campaign. (What is it with ascendant Republicans and allegedly scamming money from charities?) But hey, the charges were dropped and he looks like a Ken doll and he used to be a Navy SEAL, and what’s a perfect modern Republican but a ball of spiders in a pretty box?
When the former media-designated “rising star” of the party resigned, he did so with defiance, bemoaning the “treatment” he’d received for his own actions while blaming a vast left-wing conspiracy for investigations that were in fact spearheaded by a Republican-led state legislature that at one point considered impeaching him. But in Greitens’ fantasyland, the real offense wasn’t that he sexually brutalized and threatened his hairdresser in his basement while his pregnant wife was out of town; it was the people who investigated his misdeeds and the media that reported them. Now, Greitens, who denies the brutality and blackmail but admits to the affair, is on a publicity tour designed to re-introduce himself to the people of Missouri as a guy who somehow deserves to represent them in the United States Senate. It’s a masterclass in audacity. To understand the magnitude of shamelessness Greitens is displaying right now, we should take a hard look at the behavior that led to his 2018 resignation. Because a lot of it is in the public record, and it’s pretty egregious.
In early 2018, Missouri’s Republican state House Speaker Todd Richardson formed a special investigative committee on oversight to “investigate allegations against Governor Eric R. Greitens.” The bipartisan committee heard from multiple witnesses who testified under oath while measures were taken to keep their identities private to protect their safety. In April 2018, the committee published a 24-page distillation of its findings. Among other things, they found Greitens’ accuser, known in the report as “Witness 1,” to be credible, noting that she hadn’t even wanted to come forward and that she seemed traumatized by the entire affair. Greitens was given a chance to respond to the accusations against him and produce documents on his own behalf, but didn’t.
The woman was Greitens’ hairdresser. She told the committee that she found him to be handsome and exciting, and that she’d developed a crush on him. One day, during an appointment, he nonconsensually ran his hand up her leg and to her crotch. In the aftermath of this encounter, the two agreed to meet up; Greitens wanted her to meet him at his house when his wife, Sheena (who, at the time, was pregnant with their second child), would be out of town. The woman said that when she got to Greitens’ house, he searched her clothes and purse for bugs, as though he was paranoid about being surveilled. And then, things got even weirder.
He told her that he wanted to show her proper pull-up technique. The woman told the committee that she thought he wanted to have some sort of “sexy workout.” (The words “sexy workout” appear in the report quite often.) Greitens then told her to change into clothing he’d prepared for her—a shirt with a slit cut in the front and a pair of men’s pajama pants—and led her down into his basement, where Greitens taped her hands to a pair of rings and blindfolded her. Greitens then told the woman that she had to be hydrated before the workout, took water in his own mouth, and attempted to spit it into the woman’s mouth through a nonconsensual kiss. The woman spit the water out, and Greitens called her a “bad girl,” then—also nonconsensually—he ripped her shirt open and removed her pants.
The woman says that at this point, she heard Greitens take a photo of her and saw the flash of a camera through her blindfold. Then, Greitens threatened to blackmail her with the photo. According to the committee report, the woman says Greitens told her, “You’re not going to mention my name. Don’t even mention my name to anybody at all, because if you do, I’m going to take these pictures, and I’m going to put them everywhere I can. They are going to be everywhere, and then everyone will know what a little whore you are.” (In the ensuing public fallout, members of the press repeatedly tried to get Greitens to clarify whether such a photo existed, but in every instance, he dodged the question with a non-denial.)
She added, “Of course, in my head, I was screaming, ‘Fuck, all I want to do is tell people right now.’ I’m dying. This is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me. So I just didn’t answer at all, and then he spanked me and said, ‘Are you going to mention my name?’ And I said—I just gritted through my teeth and I said, ‘No.’”
The woman claimed that even though she was uncomfortable, Greitens attempted to escalate the encounter. Eventually, according to the testimony, the woman tried to leave, but Greitens physically restrained her, pulling her down next to him and fondling her as she cried “uncontrollably.” Greitens then allegedly coerced the woman into performing oral sex on him while she was still crying; she says she felt that performing the sex act was the only way that she’d be allowed to leave. (Inexplicably—or maybe not!—the committee report includes the detail that the woman believed the former governor’s penis was “max six inches.”)
Despite feeling confused and embarrassed by their first encounter, the woman testified that the two continued seeing each other, and Greitens continued to engage in nonconsensual physical roughness with her. During one encounter, the woman confessed to Greitens that she’d had sex with her estranged husband, with whom she thought she might reconcile. Greitens slapped her across the face and told her “You’re mine.”
In another encounter, the two ended a workout with a sexual encounter that culminated in Greitens hitting her, grabbing her, and throwing her to the ground.
“And I instantly just started bawling and was just like, ‘What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you?’” reads the portion of the report describing the incident. “And I just laid there crying while he was just like… you’re fine, you’re fine.”
The report also includes a summary of testimony from two of the woman’s friends, in whom she confided her confusion over the affair. It also includes testimony from her now-ex husband, who secretly recorded the conversation where the woman told him about the first encounter she’d had with Greitens. On the tape, which eventually went wide to reporters, the woman’s estranged husband told her that she’d been “half-raped and blackmailed.”
The epilogue of this story isn’t good for anybody involved. The woman and her husband divorced. She says she fears for the lives of her children and wishes this would have never been public. The wife that Greitens publicly humiliated left him in 2020. Even Missouri’s most It Girl wingnut, Josh Hawley, was in favor of Greitens’ 2018 resignation, a stance that he just this week told the Kansas City Star he still stands by.
Before Gardner resigned, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner abruptly dropped criminal charges against him in the midst of jury selection after an investigator she’d tapped muddied the case and just after he resigned, she dropped the computer-tampering charges, related to using a veterans charity he’d founded to aid his gubernatorial campaign, saying that “I remain confident we have the evidence required to pursue charges against Mr. Greitens, but sometimes pursuing charges is not the right thing to do for our city or our state.”
Greitens, naturally, claimed it was all a “witch hunt” (sound familiar?) and, just two years after that, he started running ads with money left over from the campaign committee he’d never retired ahead of a potential gubernatorial run while some of the creepiest men in MAGA land began speaking out in his defense.
And now, Greitens is ready to be a senator. The self-assurance of the subpar American man: If we could harness it, its power could light the St. Louis Arch for 1,000,000 years.
Left-wingers like me aren’t the only people who think Eric Greitens’ run for Senate is a terrible idea. On Wednesday, conservative stalwart-turned-Trump cheerleader Hugh Hewitt had Greitens as a guest on his radio talk show, and, much to Greitens’ dismay, it didn’t go so well.
Hewitt’s primary concern wasn’t that Greitens engaged in predatory and abusive conduct that broke up two families. Hewitt was worried about how it would play. His “biggest issue” regarding Greitens’ Senate candidacy wasn’t whether or not he was a sex creep; it was whether or not he could win. To conservatives, making sure the Senate remains useless is of utmost importance to the future of the Republic.
Hewitt’s concerns, while informed by the cynical dementia that infects everybody who spends too much time as a political gadfly, weren’t totally wrong. Missourians can and have rejected unqualified conservative men who don’t know when to shut the fuck up in the recent past; former Sen. Claire McCaskill eked out a win in 2012 after Republican Senate nominee Todd Akin remarked that women who have experienced “legitimate rape” can’t get pregnant and therefore wouldn’t require abortions, since the “female body” has ways to “shut that whole thing down.” Hewitt pointed out that the phrase “half-raped and blackmailed” might look bad in a political attack ad. It didn’t matter whether or not the woman was “discredited” as Greitens claimed (and Hewitt agreed).
Greitens spent much of the interview sounding like his answers were generated by a Russian Facebook spambot—sputtering about George Soros, conflating two separate investigations into misconduct when he was a governor, bragging incoherently about his military experience, moving the goalposts, claiming that the people who wanted him to resign were leftist radicals rather than fellow members of the Missouri Republican Party.
But despite Hewitt’s morally hollow but politically astute observations, Greitens clung to the fantasy version of himself, the big tough Navy SEAL, the Republican from central casting, the target of the mainstream media and George Soros and the establishment who just want to take him down, rather than the real version: the twice-divorced failed politician with a biography bruised in a way that all the Fox News foundation in the world can’t hide. Given what we know about Greitens’ refusal to engage with the truth, I’m sure he thought it went great.
I know better than to feel gleeful about Greitens’ candidacy, because I have very little faith that a state dominated by the GOP won’t do whatever it takes to suppress the vote enough to elect any old monster with an (R) after their name. But if Greitens wins the Republican primary in Missouri and voters remember how repugnant he is, and enough voters turn out to overcome whatever suppressive tactics the state GOP will attempt to deploy in 2022, Democrats may have a shot at yet another Senate pickup. If Greitens is the GOP candidate, both parties will flood the race in money and attention, and attention seems to be Greitens’ worst enemy. An archvillain crafted in a lab would not be a more perfect foil for the Democratic Party, a party that owes its White House and Senate victories in part to female voters’ disgust with the conduct and rhetoric of our predatory and misogynist former president.
If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, Greitens’ aspirations are a particularly corrosive version of insane.