Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has compared himself to President Donald Trump, as have both their supporters and their critics. But there’s no comparison between Republicans in Jefferson City and those in Washington D.C.
In Missouri, lawmakers in the governor’s own party have been standing up to Greitens since he took office. Whereas congressional Republicans have only rarely and barely dared to challenge the president even now, as Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse put it, that Trump is “threatening to light American agriculture on fire” with his plan to impose tariffs on Chinese imports.
Though we’d like to think that Missourians just naturally have the moxie to take on their own when need be, Sen. Roy Blunt pretty much single-handedly disproves that theory. In one recent interview, the senator refused to tell CNN’s Jake Tapper that it bothers him when the president lies. In another, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that, “I don’t think it’s my job to decide” whether Greitens should resign. “Voters voted for him,” he reasoned.
Now, neither Greitens nor Trump has many friends among the GOP establishment that each ran on running down. Though both remain popular with party activists, Greitens’ enduring approval from the base hasn’t kept Missouri Republicans from disputing him. Or from calling a special session to consider impeachment.
So why is that? Trump has been on the public stage longer and inspires both more loyalty and more fear among lawmakers than Greitens, who never had the same power to come into a critic’s district and try to make him pay at the polls. In recent months, Republicans in Jefferson City have become convinced that leaving Greitens in office would hurt them a lot more than ousting him, painful as that would be. “We will not avoid doing what is right,” House Speaker Todd Richardson said, “just because it is hard or just because it was not the path we hoped to travel.”
Former Missouri GOP chairman John Hancock sees this as simply facing the facts as laid out by the bipartisan Missouri House committee investigating the governor. “If you read the reports, and there have been three of them now, they are altogether disturbing on every level they can be disturbing on, so members don’t really have a choice.”
No partisan is gladdened by the prospect of the impeachment exercise that Greitens, who has denied allegations of sexual, ethical, campaign and financial misconduct, has himself made unavoidable. But “the political implications of him staying are pretty bad for Republicans,” the former party chair said, “because you certainly have a divided party in an election year. If he’s gone, the impact will be substantially mitigated” by November.
If Greitens left office, Republicans would presumably remember that they’re more interested in unseating Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill than in punishing her opponent, Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, for doing his job and investigating Greitens.
Meanwhile, without exception, Hancock says, those Republicans who’ve told him that they think Greitens should keep his job have one thing in common: “They haven’t read the reports.” When there are reports to read on the president, maybe even Washington Republicans will recalculate and respond.