Originally Published: April 23, 2018 6 a.m.
Need a break from Trump? Come with me to Missouri.
Where else can you find a Republican governor who’s under indictment on a felony charge of invading the privacy of his extramarital mistress?
This is surely the most under-reported scandal of the year, probably because the national press pays insufficient attention to flyover country. But the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of Eric Greitens is seriously story-worthy - not just because the details are so despicably dirty - but because his bunker mentality is so Trumpian. And the stench of the scandal is so bad that even Sarah Huckabee Sanders calls it “very concerning.”
Up until the moment in February when he was arrested and booked at a St. Louis jail, Greitens seemed destined for the fast track to national Republican glory. A full scholarship at Duke (where he majored in ethics), a Rhodes Scholarship, a doctorate from Oxford, a stint abroad as a Navy SEAL (where he won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart), creator of a nonprofit group that helps veterans, author of three books, a handsome hunk with a wife and two kids -- wow, this guy had it all.
Plus, he had a hairdresser who doubled as his mistress.
According to a new report commissioned by the Republican-run state legislature, the mistress was a victim of physical and sexual assault. She spoke to the investigators and was deemed credible. In 2016, Greitens invited her to his home while his wife was away.
She says that Greitens ripped her shirt open, pulled down her pants, tied her to a piece of exercise equipment, tried to spit water into her mouth, blindfolded her, snapped a photo of her on his phone without her permission and told her that if she ever mentioned his name to anyone, he would ruin her by ensuring that the photo went viral.
Or, in his alleged words, “I’m going to take these pictures, and I’m going to out them everywhere I can. They are going to be everywhere, and then everyone will know what a little whore you are.”
She says he then coerced her into performing oral sex because she feared for her “physical self.”
The legislative report, released last week, jibed with evidence that was presented earlier to a grand jury, which indicted Greitens for committing a felony, “invasion of privacy in the first degree.” The charge is punishable by up to four years in the slammer.
He goes on trial May 14 - not the ideal situation for a sitting governor.
There’s a lot more seamy stuff, but let’s skip to the political ramifications. This is where the fun begins.
In a new Missouri poll, 58 percent of Republican voters want the governor to keep his job. (He even got a standing ovation at a GOP fundraiser last weekend. This from the so-called party of high moral character.) Thus emboldened, Greitens is refusing to resign. He says his liaison with the hairdresser was merely “a personal mistake” and that the indictment is a “disappointing and misguided political decision,” a “fake charge” based on “lies.”
A smattering of Republican lawmakers have demanded Greitens’ resignation. The sole GOP leader to do so is Josh Hawley, the state attorney general. Hawley just so happens to be the top Republican contender for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Claire McCaskill, a top target.
But Hawley clearly fears that beating McCaskill will be tough if he’s weighed down with Greitens’ baggage. Which is why the Republican attorney general is at war with the Republican governor and vice versa.
Clearly, the GOP has a problem. There’s some talk of trying to impeach Greitens. One Missouri Republican calls him “a classic sociopath,” and the big question is whether or how the Trump regime weighs in. Trump would love to see Hawley knock off McCaskill without the burden of Greiten’s baggage, but how can Trump credibly demand that Greitens quit?
How can a misogynist credibly accused of sexually harassing 19 women possibly pass judgement on an indicted harasser, who styles himself as Trump’s Mini-Me?
By the way, Missouri’s Republican headquarters is on record about the indictment. It says the whole thing was orchestrated by, take a wild guess, George Soros. As always, all roads lead back to the party’s favorite bogeyman.
I happen to believe that the blame should be placed on Greitens, but, then again, I’m old enough to remember when the GOP touted itself as the party of personal responsibility.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at WHYY in Philadelphia and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.