Republican candidates should be met with skepticism in the ‘Show-Me State’

Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens
Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via AP, File
FILE – Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens speaks at the Taney County Lincoln Day event at the Chateau on the Lake in Branson, Mo., April 17, 2021. The video of Greitens, a GOP Missouri U.S. Senate candidate cocking a gun after calling for a hunt of fellow Republicans who he believes are “RINOs,” or Republicans In Name Only was scraped off Facebook within a few hours Monday, June 20, 2022. It remains live, however, on YouTube. You can also still see the video on Twitter, but you can’t retweet it.

The origin of Missouri’s self-image as the “Show-Me State” has been traced to a comment made by Congressman Willard Vandiver in 1899: At a banquet in Philadelphia, Vandiver declared, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

Widely used throughout Missouri, the motto appears on the state’s license plates.

These days, Missouri no longer raises all that many Democrats — and the run-up to the Republican primary for the United States Senate on Aug. 2 provides lots of froth and little evidence of “show me” skepticism or a demand for facts.

Here’s what the three leading candidates are selling:

Vicky Hartzler has represented Missouri’s 4th Congressional District since 2011. On Jan. 6, 2021, Rep. Hartzler characterized the assault on the U.S. Capitol as “thuggery, plain and simple … behavior one would expect to witness during a third world coup … [and] one of the darkest days in our history.” Violators of the law, she emphasized, “must be punished.”

That evening, after acknowledging that Trump’s “unpresidential remarks” made her decision more difficult, Hartzler voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. These states, she insisted, “blatantly violated their own election laws” and “usurped power from their state legislatures to change voting procedures.”

Remembering, no doubt, her criticism of him and the Jan. 6 mob, former president Trump recently told Missouri Republicans to “forget about Vicky Hartzler for Senate” because she “doesn’t have what it takes” to confront “the Fake News Media and, of course, the deceptive and foolish RINOs.”

In comments that seem more “for show” (in a state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2020) than “show me,” however, Hartzler now praises Trump for “backing his words with action. That’s what Missourians expect.” Maintaining that “We’ll never know if the election was stolen,” she does not mention that Trump’s own attorney general and White House counsel told the him it wasn’t.

Hartzler voted against bi-partisan legislation to create an independent commission, composed of equal numbers of House Republicans and Democrats, to investigate the Capitol riot. She now maintains that the current investigation is being conducted by “an illegitimate committee weaponized solely to attack former president Trump.”

Throughout his campaign, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has boasted about how he “stood up for President Trump” by filing an amicus brief supporting the Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. Schmitt does not mention that the Supreme Court declared that Texas lacked standing to challenge the management of an election by another state. Asked if President Trump bears any responsibility for Jan. 6, Schmitt replied: “No. Look: People make their own decisions.”

Schmitt, it turns out, has himself used rhetoric that condones violence: “If the Left wants to remake America,” he told CPAC in February 2022, “they’re going to have to take it from our cold, dead hands.”

And yet, he seems reluctant to weigh in on other issues.

Schmitt has filed 47 suits against school district COVID mandates. But he won’t indicate whether he believes people improve their odds of staying healthy by freely choosing to be vaccinated. Asked directly if vaccines work, Schmitt begged the question: “I think people can make the decision themselves.”

Eric Greitens, the third Republican candidate for the Senate nomination, resigned as governor in 2018 as the Missouri General Assembly prepared to begin impeachment proceedings. Since then allegations against him — supported by photographs, telephone logs, and documents — have continued to pile up: an extramarital affair with a hairdresser, who said he tied her up, blindfolded her, stripped her naked, photographed her, and then blackmailed her to prevent her from testifying against him; his ex-wife claims he knocked her down, took her cell phone, keys and wallet to keep her from calling for help or leaving with the children; she also says he threatened to kill himself, and assaulted his son, who allegedly returned from a visit with his father in November 2019 with a swollen face, bleeding gums, and a damaged tooth which had to be removed surgically.

Insisting that allegations of blackmail, spousal and child abuse are “fabricated, baseless,” Greitens now explains that resigning “was the thing I had to do for the people who I love the most, particularly my boys.” His lawyer has accused Greitens’ former wife of working with his political opponents to destroy his campaign.

Greitens has also asserted that there are “strong and unanswered questions about the statistically impossible election results.” He has blamed Jan. 6 on the Left’s “full-scale war on the law.” In a video shared on his social media accounts, Greitens addressed Karl Rove and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): “You are disgusting cowards — and we are coming for you.”

In late June, 2022, Greitens, whose claims about his service as a Navy SEAL have been disputed, appeared in a campaign video armed with a long gun, urging his supporters to get “RINO [Republican In Name Only] hunting permits”: “There’s no bagging limit, tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we secure our country.” Accompanied by men dressed in SWAT team camouflage fatigues, Greitens breaks down the door of a house labelled “RINO’s den” and detonates an explosive device.

“Eric is tough and smart,” proclaimed former President Trump, who has not yet named the candidate he favors. “A little controversial, but I’ve endorsed controversial people before.”

It’s a safe guess that most Missouri Republicans use different words to characterize Mr. Greitens. And — if candor, consistency, common decency, and fidelity to facts remain the standard in “The Show-Me State” — they may also conclude that none of the leading candidates in the GOP primary is fit to represent them in the United States Senate.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”

Tags claims of 2020 election fraud Donald Trump Eric Greitens eric schmitt Jan. 6 Capitol attack MAGA Missouri GOP Missouri politics Missouri Republican Party Missouri Senate race Show-Me State the big lie trumpism Vicky Hartzler Violence

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