Voters usually get it right.
Let’s stipulate that upfront. But that means they sometimes get it wrong.
Missouri just experienced one of those times.
A lot of fingers have pointed directly at Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. And rightly so. He steps down at 5 p.m. Friday following one of the most ignominious tenures in state history. You know the story.
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They, too, deserve some blame. We know now they were wrong — Greitens and the voters who elected a greenhorn learned the hard way that serving as governor in a state as large and complex as ours is no starter job.
There were other warning signs, too.
Greitens was a Democrat-turned-Republican. Not a mortal sin, but the timing of the switch shortly before a run for high office raised questions.
Then there was the resume that dropped jaws everywhere he went. Duke. Oxford. A Rhodes scholar. Best-selling books. A sterling biography by Time columnist Joe Klein: “Charlie Mike: A True Story of Heroes Who Brought Their Mission Home.” I wrote once that the book was so glowing that Greitens should hand it to every voter he comes across on the campaign trail.
Impressive, it was. But it also oozed too-good-to-be-true. Klein told me a few weeks ago that he had wondered about the man he portrayed so richly.
“I always thought he was working really, really hard on his moral perfection in ways that might bust out in an embarrassing way at some point,” Klein said.
From years in the trenches of American political reporting, Klein also recognized a truism. “As a journalist, people who give off the impression of moral perfection are walking around with kick-me signs.”
Greitens got kicked all right. He was vague on lots of issues, including what to do about Missouri’s highways in desperate need of operating capital. The thinking was Greitens couldn’t take a strong stand on a tough issue because he was all about preserving his presidential ambitions. It was in 2009, after all, when he registered the domain name EricGreitensforPresident.com.
There was the highly publicized incident during the 2016 GOP primary campaign when Greitens confronted rival John Brunner on the phone over an anti-Greitens website that Brunner had opened. “Oh, John Brunner, oh my god, you are such a weasel!” Greitens proclaimed in that conversation. “I can’t wait to see you in person, John. I want to look into your eyes.”
It seemed so out of character for a Rhodes scholar, but there it was. And it turned out to be an eerie precursor to a showdown between Greitens and a Republican senator in 2017 when the governor said, “I can see by your beady little eyes that you’re afraid of me.”
Even among GOP legislators, relations never improved.
Hindsight is silly. I know that. But you wouldn’t allow a first-year medical student to operate on your heart, either. Missouri voters made precisely that choice in 2016, too many blindly following the party line in a desperate search for something that will never come to pass — and that is a political savior unsullied by experience in elected office who makes everything right.
It wound up really setting us back.