A month after Tom Schweich took his life, Missouri Republicans still struggle with their reaction to the tragedy and what it says about their party.
Every statewide Republican directly involved in the story has seen his or her reputation tarnished.
Missouri GOP chairman John Hancock clings to his job, insisting he’s the victim of a smear campaign by opponents who falsely accuse him of religious bias.
But Hancock’s own statements seem almost Clintonesque: I never called Schweich Jewish, Hancock seems to be saying, but if I did, I’m sorry.
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Most Republicans, and many Democrats, say Hancock is an honorable man who probably described Schweich’s religion innocently, if inaccurately, in a handful of private conversations. That doesn’t explain Hancock’s continuing non-denial denials. Those statements will likely follow him and the party well into next year if he stays in his job.
Former Sen. Jack Danforth leads the effort to push Hancock out, but Danforth’s standing has also suffered. Parts of the Republican Party have long disliked Danforth’s pious demeanor — they call him “St. Jack” — and believe the senator’s angry speech at Schweich’s funeral aimed to divert attention away from Danforth’s own role in Schweich’s struggles.
The Missouri GOP is no longer Danforth’s party, his opponents say. He just doesn’t realize it.
Catherine Hanaway has suspended her campaign for governor, providing room for a handful of others to enter the race for the Republican nomination. Those candidates stand further away from Schweich than Hanaway, whose connections with Hancock and consultant Jeff Roe are clear. (A Roe radio commercial seems to have bothered Schweich in his final days.)
What was a straightforward Republican primary is now a complicated tangle costing Hanaway and others time and money while making Democrat Chris Koster’s path easier.
Sen. Roy Blunt might be the one Republican who could pour oil on the troubled waters. Alas, he’s only said the state committee should decide whether Hancock should stay. Consequently, any claim Blunt might make as leader of the state GOP has been badly damaged by his silence in its hour of crisis.
One month later, Tom Schweich’s suicide remains deeply sad. Republicans say we’ll never understand such a rash choice — he was sick and disillusioned, they say.
But whatever message Tom Schweich meant to send will echo for months to come.