When Missouri GOP Senate candidate Eric Greitens released an ad that featured him holding a shotgun saying he was going “RINO hunting”—a favored acronym among conservatives for “Republican In Name Only”—Greitens didn’t seem to consider how the ad could backfire.
Liberals, of course, would be up in arms, but that is sort of the point when you’re in a GOP primary in a state Donald Trump won by 15 points.
What Greitens didn’t anticipate, however, was that Trump and his team might also be disturbed—and that an ad with Jan. 6’s violent undertones might be all the more reason for the former president to stay away from endorsing a former governor who had to resign following allegations of sexual assault.
For now, Trumpworld is watching how Greitens handles the controversy with great interest, sources told The Daily Beast.
Although Greitens’ campaign chairwoman and MAGA conduit Kimberly Guilfoyle is “all-in,” according to sources familiar with the matter, Trump’s outspoken son and highly influential Trumpwold kingpin—Donald Trump Jr.—who is engaged to Guilfoyle, has yet to endorse a candidate in the race.
“While Don has made it known that he is a fan of Greitens personally, he basically thinks that the best move for his dad strategically is to just sit back and let the primary unfold without jumping in for anyone,” a source familiar with Don Jr.’s thinking on the primary told The Daily Beast.
“The only thing that would shift his view would be if [Mitch] McConnell decided to intervene in the primary and unload millions against Greitens,” the source added.
McConnell is mostly staying out of it, though he did tell reporters Wednesday that the RINO hunting ad was “something voters in the Missouri Republican primary need to take a look at.”
As for Trump himself, he isn’t too keen on immediately jumping into the fold to support one candidate or another at the moment, one source said.
While sitting out the primary all together is one option, those who have spoken to Trump say the 2024 Republican presidential frontrunner also wants to avoid a repeat of the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial race, when Trump never endorsed, and GOP rising star Glenn Youngkin took back the governor’s mansion in an increasingly blue state.
With Trump on the sidelines, some Trump allies seem to believe it’s open season on Greitens. His checkered past, marked with allegations of beating his ex-wife and children—and being charged with felony invasion of privacy after he threatened an ex-lover with revenge porn—is beyond the pale, these sources indicated.
“This behavior included physical violence toward our children, such as cuffing our then 3-year-old son across the face at the dinner table in front of me and yanking him around by his hair,” Greitens’ ex-wife Sheena, a university professor, said in 2018 under oath.
Greitens’ ex-wife earlier this week accused Greitens of domestic violence in a court filing and pledged to use his recent controversial campaign ad in their continued divorce proceedings.
There is “not a need for Eric Greitens to be in public life,” an influential Trumpworld figure told The Daily Beast, while suggesting the candidate take some time off and sort out his personal life.
Select Trumpworld figures are also weighing how nominating Greitens might affect GOP chances of taking back the Senate.
His most recent inflammatory television ad, combined with his well-documented personal baggage, leaves a possibility that a Democratic candidate could beat Greitens in the general if he won the GOP nomination.
That possibility was one the Greitens campaign all but scoffed at.
“If these clowns really believe that Governor Greitens should not be a candidate, why is he leading the entire field by a mile in recent public polling? What does that say about their preferred candidates?” Greitens campaign manager Dylan Johnson told The Daily Beast. “These swamp creatures and grifters know their time at the trough is finished. That’s why they’re scared of America First champion Governor Greitens.”
Polling in the contentious race supports that assertion.
A June poll by The Hill and Emerson College found that 26 percent of primary voters supported Greitens, edging out his closest opponent by 6 points. Still, 27 percent of voters notably remained undecided.
The leading GOP contenders in Missouri all know that the seal of approval from the former president could be the difference-maker in a crowded primary field. The Greitens campaign is hardly the only campaign fighting for a Trump endorsement; all have taken steps to get themselves closer to the coveted nod.
Longtime Trump confidant Kellyanne Conway’s firm KA Consulting is working with Rep. Billy Long (R-MO), who is so pro-Trump he often walks around Capitol Hilll with novelty “45 dollar bills” in his jacket pocket, commemorating the 45th president. Long got dangerously close to an endorsement in March, when Trump urged voters to take another look at the congressman’s campaign, which had been fading in the polls.
“This is not an Endorsement,” Trump wrote in his statement at the time, calling Long “big, loud and proud.” The former president added: “I’m just askin’?”
The Long campaign has paid Conway’s KA Consulting, LLC nearly $200,000 between July 2021 and this March, according to federal disclosures for “campaign consulting,” with the most significant single payment coming as a polling and research expense in August for about $60,000.
Another leading contender, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, sought a classic way to curry favor with Trump: hosting a fundraiser at Mar-A-Lago. A March event for his campaign brought in north of $1.5 million, Schmitt told local press.
And Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a conservative stalwart in the House, got the backing of the state’s best-known MAGA loyalist, Sen. Josh Hawley—with Hawley even speaking out against Greitens.
“If you hit a woman or a child, you belong in handcuffs, not the United States Senate. It’s time for Eric Greitens to leave this race,” Hawley wrote back in March on Twitter.
While countless candidates have been pulling strings attempting to influence a potential Trump endorsement in the race, the Greitens campaign declined to predict whether Trump would get behind their candidate.
“President Trump’s endorsement is the most powerful in political history. There is only one America First candidate in this race who has defended the movement and President Trump from Day 1, and that person is Governor Greitens,” Johnson said.
A Trump spokesperson didn’t return The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
While Greitens has detractors in Trumpworld, he does have some Trumpword allies. Former Trump special assistants Steven Cheung and Borris Epsten are both with Greitens, as are a number of Bannon allies. For a time, the Greitens payroll also included Taylor Budowich, now Trump’s communications director.
Between last June and January of this year, the Greitens campaign paid $35,000 in consulting fees to Budowich’s company, Conservative Strategies, per federal records reviewed by The Daily Beast. Business registration documents with the state of California list Budowich as the sole officer of Conservative Strategies.
As the Missouri mess has unfolded, Senate GOP leadership in Washington has studiously avoided weighing in on Greitens’ string of scandals and provocations, perhaps in hopes that his candidacy would fade and the problem would resolve itself.
In March, McConnell sidestepped questions about whether Grietens had to drop out after fresh details about his alleged domestic abuse were made public. He only said that Missouri voters would “take into account” those details.
On Wednesday, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), chair of the Senate GOP’s official campaign arm, claimed to reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast that he “didn’t see” Greitens’ incendiary video that dominated the news discourse on Tuesday.
When pressed about the video, Scott said he didn’t believe “that we ought to promote any violence.” Beyond that, Scott declined to weigh in. “I think Missouri will make a good choice,” he said. “Whoever they choose will be a Republican senator from Missouri.”
Asked later whether he’d personally talked with Trump about Greitens, Scott joked that the ex-president doesn’t usually listen to his advice on not endorsing in primaries .
“My advice, as you know, is not something he probably does all the time,” Scott said. “Which is, it’d be nice if no one endorsed.”
Sam Brodey and Roger Sollenberger contributed to this report.