Melinda Henneberger

Eric Greitens sex scandal debate: Impeach Trump mini-me governor now or later?

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens AP

There is only one Donald J. Trump. But he does have a younger, leaner Missouri mini-me in Gov. Eric Greitens.

Like the president, our governor is also an outsider’s outsider, who had never run for office before 2016. He, too, railed against the corruption and mediocrity of professional politicians, for whom he had nothing but contempt. He, too, ran on draining the swamp. And then had a spectacularly scandal-filled first year in office, accomplishing little beyond scotching low-income housing tax credits and vetoing aid for disabled Missourians. You know, if you consider that sort of thing an achievement.

Now, with next to no friends on either side of the aisle, few beyond the governor himself are betting that the 44-year-old former Navy SEAL will serve out his term. Ever since the bipartisan committee investigating him issued its holy-crap report last week, detailing a physically and sexually abusive relationship with his former hairdresser, the only real argument in Jefferson City has been whether to start impeachment proceedings now or later.

Since his fellow Republican, Attorney General Josh Hawley, announced that his office had uncovered other, unrelated “potentially criminal acts” — Greitens’ allegedly illegal appropriation of his charity’s valuable mailing list for political fundraising — the “impeach ASAP” camp has only grown.

Even in facing removal, Greitens compares himself to the president. He admits no wrongdoing on any front, calls all charges against him ridiculous, and has repeatedly likened the criminal investigation into his behavior to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump’s dealings. “This is exactly like what’s happening with the witch hunts in Washington, D.C,” Greitens said last week, then went on to make the woman he allegedly manipulated and threatened out to be a liar who doesn’t know dream-time from daylight. So is Hawley dreaming, too?

Unlike the president, of course, Greitens is not being investigated for possible collusion with a hostile foreign power. His lawyers are more lawyerly than the Trump’s, and from what we know, the criminal invasion of privacy case against him is far less daunting.

But there are parallels: The governor’s narcissism is no less acute. (If you doubt this, a glance at the campaign ad in which he co-starred with a machine gun will remedy that. Or check out his arrival last fall at a bull-riding event in Springfield, where he rappelled from the rafters onto the floor of the arena.)

Not so long ago, his presidential ambitions were considered rational.

Even if he’s not found guilty in court, however, it’s unlikely Greitens can save himself by claiming that escaping a criminal conviction is the same as being fully exonerated.

Or by claiming that his relationship with the hairdresser was a consensual affair. Not when that bipartisan Missouri House committee found that he’d pressured her to have oral sex while she sobbed uncontrollably. That he’d hit her on several occasions, and called her a “little whore” right after blindfolding her and taping her to some exercise rings.

Even if he’s not found guilty of taking and distributing her picture without consent, he’s not the man Missouri thought it was electing. Not even close.

At this point, unfortunately, Greitens has Missouri taped to the exercise equipment, and he isn’t about to put the state’s need to be free of him ahead of his own ego.

Missouri state Sen. Rob Schaaf, who tweeted a photo of a fork after the report came out — as in, stick a fork in him — even wrote to Trump, begging him to try to get through to Greitens as his commander in chief.

I can’t think of any reason Trump might really tell Greitens to stop kidding himself and drop the delusional talking points about standing up to the liberals who are supposedly out to get him.

Just as Trump himself would never willingly leave office, he won’t push Greitens to do that. But because the president really is sui generis, Greitens is a lot less likely to have a choice.

This column appeared first in USA Today.