Eric Greitens lost the Missouri Senate primary. He won’t disappear from politics

·4 min read
Jeff Roberson/AP

Whatever you want to call the two-minute speech former Gov. Eric Greitens made on election night, it wasn’t a concession.

He did not congratulate Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt on winning the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. He told his supporters he was proud of them, but he never admitted defeat.

Instead, he preached patience.

“God has a plan. It doesn’t always work on our timeline, but it does work on his,” Greitens said. “And sometimes, sometimes we have to practice patience. What I can tell you that I love you guys and I will continue to work for you, continue to fight for you, continue to serve you, every single day of my life.”

When Greitens resigned as governor in 2018, people were quick to assume that it meant the end of his political career. By the old rules of politics, a politician typically can’t recover from that kind of scandal. Greitens had been indicted twice in the span of months, including the high-profile sexual blackmail case, and was staring down a likely impeachment by his own party.

But there are new rules. Politicians have shown they can weather scandals by ignoring them. In the mold of former President Donald Trump, they’ve even begun to stop openly admitting defeat after they lose.

“Eric Greitens is the single most competitive person I’ve ever known in my life,” said Jeff Smith, a former Democratic state senator who grew up with Greitens. “To think that losing an election is going to purge him from public life is naive. It’s impossible to say how or when, or where, but I’m confident that we’ve not heard the last of him.”

That is the way at least some of Greitens’ supporters took his speech on Tuesday. John Gotway, the mayor of Dardenne Prairie, said Greitens’ line about patience meant he will eventually be on the ballot again.

“It means he’s not out of politics,” Gotway said. “He’s going to run for another office.”

Gotway, who was at the party, said he hopes Greitens chooses to run for Congress. He felt like Greitens was the candidate who best represented people who are fed up with the status quo in politics.

Dylan Johnson, Greitens’ campaign manager, did not respond to a request for comment.

But Tuesday raised questions about how powerful that base is. Greitens won only three of Missouri’s 114 counties and lost to Schmitt by nearly 27 percentage points.

The lack of energy surrounding Greitens could be felt anecdotally. If a Trump rally is the apex of MAGA energy, then the Greitens party was its younger, darker, less fun brother.

A Trump rally feels somewhat like a concert, with the former president’s fans showing up to hear their leader’s greatest hits. The Greitens event had all the airs of a business reception that people attend out of obligation, from the buffet of poorly stocked charcuterie board fare to light conversations at the tall tables where people scrolled on their phones. The hall, when you entered, smelled vaguely of a public restroom. A group of teens wearing bright blue Greitens shirts sauntered around the room, patrolling it as if they were hired security.

The showing may have further weakened the impression of Greitens’ political power in Missouri. James Harris, a Jefferson City-based Republican political consultant, said voters were shown the true nature of Greitens while his resignation was still fresh.

“He’s a monster,” Harris said. “He’s a person who probably needed a lot of therapy. If Greitens had been smart, he would have waited.”

There is also the question of money. As Greitens was being pummeled by outside spending associated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, he lacked the money to fight back. While he was able to secure $1 million from fitness influencer Andrew Frisella late in the campaign, many of the donors who helped him become governor didn’t donate to his Senate campaign.

Big Republican donors like August Busch III instead helped Schmitt. Donors that Greitens once got big donations from, like Steve Cohen, a Connecticut hedge fund manager, and Michael Goguen, a California-based investor, didn’t appear on the former governor’s campaign finance reports this time around.

“The fuel for any high-level campaign is money,” Smith said. “And he’s burned so many of his bridges on that front that I’m not sure how you refuel the engine.”

Still, Greitens was embraced by people associated with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon after he resigned and appeared frequently on Bannon’s podcast while running for Senate. In being close to Bannon, there’s a chance Greitens will be able to continue building support among the far right.

“A couple of weeks ago I’m confident he believed that he was on track towards redemption by winning a Senate seat and avenging, in his mind, what happened in 2018. This has to be a difficult reversal,” Smith said. “But again, he will find some vehicle for his public ambition.”

The Star’s Jonathan Shorman contributed reporting

This story has been updated to correct former state Sen. Jeff Smith’s office.