GOP sounds alarm bells over Greitens allegations
Republicans are sounding alarm bells over GOP Senate candidate Eric Greitens after the former Missouri governor’s ex-wife accused him of abusing her and their children while they were married.
The detailed allegations are fueling a spike in GOP anxiety over his candidacy, with national Republicans distancing themselves from Greitens and his competitors calling on him to suspend his campaign.
Republicans worry that Greitens’s baggage could cause them to lose what should be a safe red seat left open by the upcoming retirement of GOP Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.). Republicans are feeling increasingly optimistic about their chances of winning back the Senate majority in November but also can’t afford the risk of self-enforced errors.
Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), who chairs the Senate GOP campaign arm, stopped short of calling on Greitens to drop out but described the new allegations as “pretty disturbing.”
“I think we’ve got to find out exactly what happened,” Scott said.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, indicated that he thought Greitens should drop out.
“I don’t know why you would want to … continue the race in this case. It just seems like with that, coupled with all the other scandals, it’s hard to see how he could be a viable general election candidate,” Thune said.
Asked about the allegations, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) — an adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who didn’t respond to questions about Greitens — added that “it looks very ugly to me.”
The latest headache for Republicans came after an affidavit by Sheena Greitens, the former governor’s ex-wife, that contained several disturbing details, including that Eric Greitens bought a gun, hid it from his family and threatened to kill himself if his then-wife did not provide “specific public political support” prior to his 2018 resignation. Sheena Greitens also alleged that her ex-husband grew physically violent with her and her children.
Eric Greitens has shown no indication that he will go away quietly, digging in with a statement on Monday and saying that he will “pray for their mother and hope that she gets the help that she needs.”
“I will continue to love and care for my beautiful sons with all of my being, and that includes fighting for the truth and against completely fabricated, baseless allegations,” he said in his statement.
The revelation is the latest red flag for national Republicans after Greitens already faced questions over allegations of sexual assault from a mistress in 2018. Republicans have been keeping a close eye on the race for months over fears that Greitens could potentially win the primary.
McConnell, without mentioning Greitens, previously told CNN that “we’re keeping our eye on it.”
“Missouri is potentially challenging depending on the outcome in the primary,” McConnell said.
Republicans have scrambled to try to prevent Greitens from securing the GOP nomination, with Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who are both viewed as having 2024 White House ambitions, endorsing other candidates. Though Missouri has increasingly moved to the right over the past decade, Republicans have also watched themselves lose general elections they thought they could win because of missteps by GOP candidates.
In 2012, the late Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-Mo.) campaign to unseat former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) imploded after he told a local TV station that “if it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”
Republicans are eager to avoid a similar misstep where a candidate wins the GOP primary who could struggle to win a general election in November and cost them a Senate seat.
“I think he’s probably, of all the potential nominees to come out of the state of Missouri, represents the most difficult path to us winning in the fall. … If electability is an issue and it is, then, again, we want to have candidates that are electable and don’t have to answer allegations like that,” Thune said.
Hawley also called on Greitens to drop out of the race.
“If you hit a woman or a child, you belong in handcuffs, not the United States Senate,” Hawley tweeted. “It’s time for Eric Greitens to leave this race.”
Several opponents echoed those calls.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) condemned the findings from the affidavit in a video response released on Monday, calling for Greitens to suspend his campaign and “get professional help.”
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) also called on Greitens to drop his bid for the upper chamber, saying, “I know a predator when I see one, and I have fought for victims every step of the way.”
Billy Long, who is also a primary opponent, tweeted that Greitens is “clearly unfit to represent the state of Missouri in the United States Senate. There’s no way he can stay in this race.”
A wild card in the primary is who former President Trump will endorse, with fears that he could back Greitens in part to spite McConnell, a former ally who is one of the former president’s biggest political targets.
Politico reported earlier this month that the two met privately in late February and that Trump said he was open to endorsing Greitens despite concerns from other Republicans that having the ex-governor as the party’s nominee makes it more likely that they lose the Senate race.
Scott said he didn’t know if Trump would make an endorsement in the Missouri race but indicated that the allegations should make the former president think twice about before throwing his hat in the ring behind Greitens.
“I think he ought to take a big pause,” Scott said.
Tal Axelrod contributed to this story, which was updated at 10:06 p.m.