Melinda Henneberger

Want to know why Gov. Eric Greitens isn’t giving up? Meet his supporters

In Nevada, Missouri, Republicans would vote for Gov. Eric Greitens again tomorrow if they could. And the day after that, too.
In Nevada, Missouri, Republicans would vote for Gov. Eric Greitens again tomorrow if they could. And the day after that, too. File photo

For weeks, a lot of us have been asking what Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens thinks he’s doing, hanging on to his job at such a high cost to his family, his state and his party. With so many fellow Republicans calling on him to resign or be impeached, especially since the bipartisan Missouri House committee investigating the governor said they believe the woman who accused him under oath of coercing and slapping her, what could he be hoping to gain from holding all of Missouri hostage?

I did not go to the Vernon County GOP Lincoln Days Banquet in Nevada on Friday night looking for an answer to that question, but I found it there, anyway.

Because the answer I kept getting to the question I’d walked in with, about whether Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley’s criticism of Greitens had in any way changed their view of Hawley as a U.S. Senate candidate, was 1) Now who is Josh Hawley again? And 2) We love that Eric Greitens, though.

They’d vote for him again tomorrow and the day after that, too, if possible. Because they don’t think he’s done anything wrong. Or because even if he did, it’s nothing Bill Clinton didn’t do. And most of all, because in his current predicament, Greitens reminds them more than ever of President Donald Trump.

Out here, where much of the town was burned to the ground by Union troops in May of 1863 and Trump took 6,533 to Clinton’s 1,707 votes in 2016, it’s possible to imagine that Greitens isn’t going anywhere. More than half of Missouri Republicans still support the governor, for now, so if you’re the kind of guy who likes drama and is not exactly risk averse, maybe you take those odds.

Of the two dozen Republicans I asked about Hawley, only retired real estate broker Jack Smotherman said the attorney general was probably right to ask the governor to resign, “because if he’s going down, you don’t want to go with him.”

Two others said they were agnostic on his response, and a third, April Mosher, who is married to the local sheriff, said she’ll wait and see.

Everyone else, though, answered by defending Greitens. “I don’t approve of what they’re saying he did, but it’s nothing the Democrats haven’t done,” reasons Robert Palmer, a retired carpenter who these days builds houses for Habitat for Humanity with other members of his church. His wife, Connie Palmer, quickly changes the subject to Bill and Hillary Clinton. “Somebody needs to find some dirt on her,” she says of the latter, whose popularity here is best summed up by the MAGA-style hats on sale in multiple colors: Hillary for Prison, they say.

“We want to see Greitens stay in there,” said Mike Buehler, the Vernon County clerk, who is up for re-election. “He admitted his wrongdoing, so why do they keep going after him? He’s still our governor, just like our president is still our president.”

No one mentioned that Greitens is not up on criminal charges for having an affair. But that Greitens has been accused of sexual misconduct almost seemed like a selling point, in that it’s just one more thing he has in common with Donald Trump.

“Yeah, it’s wrong, but it’s in the past,” said Justin Schultz, a personable young truck driver in a “Courtland Sykes for Senate” T-shirt whose pickup parked out in front at the county fairgrounds has 4-TRUMP vanity plates. “It’s kind of like everything with President Trump. The media is attacking him for things from 15 years ago,’’ Schultz says.

“Governor Greitens is on the same program as President Trump.” Whereas Hawley, Schultz thinks, is not only “backstabbing our governor,” but is not in the Trump mode at all.

Jerry Haggard also likens Greitens to the president: “Greitens is great. It’s like Trump. I know he’s probably had some indiscretions, and he’s not very well liked in Jeff City, but he’s being railroaded. He’s eliminating programs, so leave the guy alone. We all have faults.”

As for Hawley, Haggard says the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, who cannily boosted her weak 2012 opponent, Todd Akin, during his primary race, “might be funding him, too, for all I know.” But Hawley’s take on the governor doesn’t bother him much since “I’d vote for a totem pole over her.”