The Republican Hoping to Ride Trump’s Scandal Strategy to Victory

It’s true that a GOP-led investigative committee in the Missouri House found Greitens’ former girlfriend, who also alleged she once felt she had to perform oral sex on him to escape his basement, to be “an overall credible witness,” and true she testified to the events under oath, which Greitens never has. But no one ever produced the alleged nude photo at the center of the criminal case against him. Greitens has used this to blame political rivals, including “RINOs” in the state Legislature, many of whom really didn’t like the guy, and the St. Louis prosecutor, who really is quite liberal, for hounding him out of office based on unproven charges.

“He’s not a disgraced former governor,” said Jane Cunningham, a Republican former state senator who served during Greitens’ governorship. “He’s an exonerated former governor, is more correct.” (In a separate campaign-finance case, the Missouri Ethics Commission fined his campaign for concealing donors but did not find that Greitens had “personal knowledge” of the violations. He was never tried on the other charges.) Cunningham was representing West St. Louis County when Greitens first burst onto the state’s political scene, and she recalled him filling up a Doubletree in Chesterfield with maybe a thousand people for an event. “I knew very few people” there, she told me, “and this was my district.” She recalled thinking that “this guy is expanding the Republican tent bigger than I have, ever. … I have never seen anything like that before.” Cunningham hasn’t endorsed anyone in the race yet; she said she’s watching and waiting.

Disgraced or not, “he’s legislatively the most conservative governor we’ve ever had,” said John Lamping, a former Missouri state senator who helped Greitens prepare for his gubernatorial run. Lamping said that he won’t endorse Greitens, because he’s a serious Catholic and finds the personal scandals disqualifying. But he likes the populist-nationalist message. Lamping has said that such a message would probably net Greitens 10 or 20 percent in the primary on its own. On the upper end, that could put the candidate a few points shy of enough to prevail in a crowded field. (Greitens won his 2016 gubernatorial primary with 35 percent.) “Missouri is primed for populism,” Lamping told me. “When you drive out to central Missouri somewhere, there used to be factories, there used to be softball fields and public schools, and now the population is diminished and there’s all kinds of problems.”

Greitens supporters I spoke to all shared a distaste for the political powers that be, and not just Democrats. One of Greitens’s biggest applause lines at the Arnold event was a repeat of his vow, if elected, not to vote for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to lead the party in the Senate. A vote for McConnell, he said, would be a vote for “politics as usual,” and for the “lobbyist class.” “I was the first guy in the country to say we’re going to take him on,” Greitens said. “And you know what? They’ve come after us. … And I tell them, ‘Guys, you’re going to have to get in line.’”

“Especially here in Missouri, we have a problem with RINOs,” said Roger Dix, 70, who lives in Missouri’s Ozarks and is retired from a career in the health care industry. Cunningham introduced me to him as a leading area Republican. He cited a Republican-dominated legislature that this session failed to defund Planned Parenthood or ban transgender girls from female sports in state universities. “You want to set my wife off? That did.” Dix also feels outgoing Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri turned his back on people like him; Dix sent a letter to Blunt’s office demanding answers about his concerns the 2020 elections were fraudulent, only to get no response and then see Blunt proudly chair Joe Biden’s inaugural committee. “We have lost our democracy at this point in time, with regard to fair and honest elections,” Dix said.

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