A Republican executive who has never held elected office takes over for a two-term Democratic predecessor after winning a close election on a promise to overturn the status quo, faces questions about transparency and feuds with members of his own party during his first 100 days.
That sentence could describe President Donald Trump, who marks his 100th day in office Saturday, but it could also describe Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who reached the milestone a week earlier and has been compared to Trump by both critics and supporters.
Greitens, a political newcomer, embraced the comparison during a Tuesday appearance on “Fox & Friends,” a show the new president has repeatedly praised since taking office.
“Well, after promising to drain the swamp and bring back jobs, the local media slammed Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, calling him President Trump’s apprentice,” co-host Steve Doocy said as he began a segment on Greitens’ first 100 days, citing a February article from The Pitch.
“But just like the president, he has looked past the media in order to deliver those promises to the people,” added co-host Ainsley Earhardt before asking Greitens to assess his first 100 days.
Greitens called his opening months incredible.
“I came in as an outsider. Navy SEAL. Conservative. Never been involved in politics before. And we let people know that our mission was really clear: It’s more jobs and higher pay, safer streets and better schools for the people of Missouri,” Greitens said. “I think what’s shocked a lot of the insiders and the lobbyists is that we came to Jefferson City and we’ve been doing exactly what we promised to do.”
Greitens went on to tout the restrictions he’s placed on lobbyist gifts to himself and other members of the executive branch as an example of how he’s changed the culture in Jefferson City.
The governor did not mention how his bill to ban lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers has struggled to move forward in the legislature partly because of an ongoing controversy about his ties to dark money groups.
“They are similar in the issue around transparency,” said U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat. “I can tell you that people up here, Democrats and a couple of Republicans, have joked with me, ‘You can’t talk about Donald Trump anymore when your own governor won’t show his taxes.’ ”
Cleaver pointed to Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax returns as a reason he will oppose the president’s tax reform bill. “If the president of the United States does not reveal his taxes, how do I know that this bill is not just something to benefit himself?” Cleaver asked.
Trump reversed a White House policy of disclosing the president’s visitors and eliminated a requirement that the Office of Government Ethics publish an annual report detailing which employees had received ethics waivers that allow them to work on issues related to previous employers.
Greitens has refused to disclose details of his inauguration donors. His administration did not turn over records on state income tax data to Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway until it faced a subpoena.
Greitens’ office did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
Austin Stukins, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said Greitens is “definitely shaking up Jefferson City” and promised that Missourians are “going to see a lot of changes” throughout the governor’s first year.
“The way Missouri government looks now is going to look significantly different than it did a year ago, not just in the first 100 days but in the next 100 days,” he said.
“You’ve seen a governor and a president who have taken it as a priority to create jobs both in Missouri and in America,” said Stukins, who served as the Republican National Committee’s Georgia state director during the 2016 election before taking his new role in Missouri.
Marvin Overby, a political scientist at the University of Missouri, said one parallel between Trump and Greitens is they’ve both come into conflict with members of their own party after facing legislative roadblocks.
After the collapse of a Trump-backed plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act in March, Trump attacked conservative holdouts in a series of tweets.
“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Trump said on Twitter before calling out some of the Freedom Caucus members by name.
Days later, Trump’s social media director called for a primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican.
There have also been reports of conflict among Trump’s advisers, which U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue addressed during a visit to Kansas City on Thursday.
“This president cultivates an open-source environment,” Perdue said. “He wants people to speak their mind. And you’ve got some very strong, opinionated people in the White House. And that’s what you hear going on is people with the freedom and the liberty to speak their mind. And I frankly like that style of leadership. … We don’t need to be yes people. We don’t need to speak with one voice.”
Cleaver, however, said this has made it difficult for Congress to legislate because the White House “never holds the same position for more than 24 hours.”
Cleaver said Republican colleagues have backed away from public criticism of Trump in some cases to avoid his wrath on social media.
“One of my Republican friends said to me, ‘Look, I think this guy is a loose cannon, but I can’t say it publicly because I don’t want to wake up one morning and be on the receiving end of a Donald Trump tweet,’ ” he said.
Greitens signed right-to-work legislation, a longtime Republican priority, into law during his first weeks in office, but other pieces of his agenda have faced roadblocks in the legislature, including the promised ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.
A New Missouri Inc., a nonprofit founded by Greitens’ campaign staffers to support his agenda, launched ads attacking state Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican, for “siding with liberals in the Senate against conservatives” and spread his cellphone number on social media.
Greitens has denied involvement in the ads. His nonprofit began attacking Schaaf after weeks of criticism from the GOP lawmaker over the governor’s reliance on dark money.
Schaaf, one of the most outspoken proponents of ethics reform, has consistently used the filibuster to bog down Senate action in an effort to force a debate on the issue. Greitens’ campaign for governor centered on ethics reform, but the Senate filibusters have put in jeopardy other pieces of his agenda.
Stukins accused Democrats of exaggerating stories of GOP infighting at both the state and federal level. “They would like to have people believe that there is a ton of infighting in our party,” Stukins said.
He blamed Trump’s legislative stumbles on Democrats despite Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and said campaign promises that “have yet to come to fruition, they’re still in the works.”
Overby said the theory behind the significance of a president’s first 100 days is it’s the period when a president has the most goodwill and political clout to pass legislation. But he also noted it’s when the president knows the least, so it may not be the best indicator of a presidency’s success in the long term.
“In some ways, the Trump administration looks a bit like the Clinton administration did in ’93: a bit disorganized. People who had promised a lot … like Trump, they found that passing health care reform is difficult,” Overby said. “But then arguably Clinton goes on to have one of the more successful presidencies of the latter half of the 20th century.”
Overby said both Greitens and Trump will need to learn to work with lawmakers to accomplish their policy goals.
“I think both of them could go on to have successful administrations, but it’s been a bit rocky for them,” he said.
The Star’s Jason Hancock and McClatchy Washington Bureau’s Anita Kumar contributed to this report.