Trumpworld splinters over Senate GOP primary

GOP civil war brews around Eric Greitens Senate campaign as Trump mulls over an endorsement

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published July 26, 2022 4:57PM (EDT)

Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens (Michael Thomas/ Getty Images)
Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens (Michael Thomas/ Getty Images)

A GOP civil war is brewing in Missouri around the embattled U.S. Senate campaign of Eric Greitens, an avowed Donald Trump backer whose poll numbers are now tumbling as more attention is brought to allegations that he physically abused his ex-wife and son. 

Poll after after reveals that Greitens, once thought of as the party's shoe-in nominee, is trailing behind both of his primary contenders, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartler, R-Mo, according to a Politico report.

In one poll from Missouri Scout, a Missouri-based news outlet, Schmitt was leading the pack at 32 percent of the vote count, with Hartzler and Greitens garnering just 25 percent and 18 percent respectively. Another poll, released by the Trafalgar Group, put all three candidates in the exact same order. 

Greitens' precipitous drop-off comes as a newly-formed anti-Greitens super PAC pours millions into attack ads against the Senate hopeful. The group, dubbed "Show Me Values," launched last month and has reportedly bought up $6 million in ads calling attention to the candidate's alleged history of abusing his wife. 

Gregg Keller, a Republican strategist affiliated with a pro-Schmitt super PAC, said that the ads are likely "a case of the straw that broke the camel's back."

"I think Missouri Republican primary voters have, and rightly so, a lot of skepticism about what they read in the press," Keller told Politico. "But at some point, when Missouri's former first lady comes forward and says Greitens beat her when they were married, and says the same thing about his young son, voters think, 'The number and the seriousness of the charges against him are just too much for me. I'm tapping out.'"

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Apart from allegations of abusing his ex-wife and son, Grietens' past is also checkered by damning allegations from 2018, during his tenure as the governor of Missouri, of sexually assaulting his hairstylist and threatening to post nude photos of her if she ever spoke of it to the press. 

Though the race is not playing out in Greitens' favor, that could quickly change with an official imprimatur from Trump, who Republicans believe might be kingmaker in many of the GOP primaries. 

At present, Trump's inner circle appears to be divided between their support of Greitens and Schmitt, as Politico noted. Former Trump officials Pam Bondi and Matt Whitaker have both reportedly lobbied the former president to throw his weight behind the latter, deeming Greitens too controversial for a general election. Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr. and his fiancée Kimberly Guilfoyle have reportedly encouraged the former president to stand by Greitens.

Last month, Trump said that would refuse to endorse Hartzler, saying he doesn't think "she has what it takes to take on the Radical Left Democrats." By contrast, the former president called Greitens the candidate that "the Democrats legitimately want to run against."

"Eric is tough and he's smart. A little controversial, but I've endorsed controversial people before," Trump added at the time, declining to give an official endorsement. "So we'll see what happens."

Back in June, The Washington Post reported that many Republican operatives and donors in Washington and Missouri began aggressively angling to prevent Greitens from being nominated after the Senate candidate released a controversial ad about going "RINO" hunting, suggesting that he might "hunt down" members of his own party who fail to show enough fealty to the MAGA agenda.

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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Brief Donald Trump Donald Trump Jr. Elections 2022 Eric Grietens Gop Civil War Gop Primaries Missouri Senate