Gov. Greitens, let’s focus on Missouri. The White House can wait

Gov. Eric Greitens isn’t hiding his presidential ambitions. Dreams of the White House are harmless until they interfere with governing Missouri. Then we’ve got a problem.
Gov. Eric Greitens isn’t hiding his presidential ambitions. Dreams of the White House are harmless until they interfere with governing Missouri. Then we’ve got a problem.

No one who studies politics and policy seriously doubts Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has his eyes on the White House.

Just last weekend, the Republican traveled to Iowa — where presidential campaigns begin. He met with party activists and spoke on behalf of GOP candidates.

A political operative stated the obvious: “He’s in Iowa on a Saturday night; 2024 may not be as far away as we think.”

Or 2020, for that matter.

Speculation about Greitens’ presidential ambitions began almost the moment he entered politics. He’s done little to discourage such talk — EricGreitensforPresident.com is taken, reserved by Greitens eight years ago.

As a child and as a student, Greitens talked about being president.

He is traveling the country and the world ostensibly to promote the state. He’s raising money. A shadowy non-profit is working to promote his interests.

Much of this is predictable. Senators and governors in lots of places often envision themselves taking the oath outside the U.S. Capitol. One-time U.S. Senate candidate Jason Kander, a Missouri Democrat, is also traveling the country, raising money and dropping in on Iowa.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach may have his eyes on the Oval Office, with a hope of sitting behind the desk instead of in front of it.

So Greitens’ ambitions aren’t a surprise. They will become worrisome, though, if they distract him from the job he’s paid to do, or if they begin to distort his policy decisions in Missouri.

We have some experience with this. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback once clearly saw himself as presidential timber. He ran for the office in 2008 and never gained traction.

Democrats and some Republicans think Brownback’s support of major tax reform in Kansas was intended to provide him with a presidential platform for 2016.

As a result, Kansas suffered through four years of budget shortfalls and controversy, in part to satisfy presidential primary voters in other states.

Missouri faces a similar danger. Already members of the General Assembly — perhaps a majority in both parties — think the governor is making decisions aimed at a national audience, at the expense of smart choices here.

Not only would this be regrettable as policy, it also would be bad politics. Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential hopes were dashed in part because he stumbled in New Jersey, and voters in other states knew it.

Greitens would not be immune from a similar outcome if his home state struggles. Devoting time to Fox News interviews while ignoring questions at home won’t help.

The governor made ethics reform a top priority in Jefferson City, an effort we strongly supported. It still hasn’t happened. Presidential voters will expect some level of accomplishment from Greitens other than vague claims of keeping the lid on protests in St. Louis.

Eric Greitens has held elective office for less than a year. He is young, and he has shown a natural talent for politics and communication. There will be plenty of time for other races for other offices, if he chooses to pursue them.

Today, though, he’s Missouri’s governor. He should worry about that job, and let the White House take care of itself.