In just two weeks since allegations of domestic violence surfaced, Eric Greitens’ campaign for the U.S. Senate has been under siege from fellow Republicans urging him to drop out of the race.
With one notable exception.
The state party, which in recent years has denounced several candidates running under the GOP banner for behavior it considered beyond the pale, has remained silent on allegations by Greitens’ ex-wife that he physically abused her and their children.
But even as the Missouri Republican Party itself keeps quiet — its executive director, Charlie Dalton, did not respond to several requests seeking comment about Greitens — a handful of women with prominent roles within the paffrty have begun speaking out.
“I’m appalled that the Missouri Republican Party hasn’t put out a statement calling for Eric Greitens to withdraw from the U.S. Senate race,” said Rene Artman, a member of the party’s executive committee who also serves as chairwoman of the Republican central committee of St. Louis County.
“Eric Greitens disgraced the state as governor,” Artman continued, “and has somehow taken that disgrace to a new level with highly credible reports that he beat his then-wife and three year-old son. Eric Greitens does not have the character to represent Missouri.”
Joining Artman in publicly calling for Greitens to abandon his campaign are Carla Young, another member of the Missouri GOP’s executive committee; Pat Thomas, the party’s longtime treasurer; and the two women who led the party during the last election cycle, former Chairwoman Kay Hoflander and former Executive Director Jean Evans.
“By asking for our former governor to stop his campaign and focus on his family, I’m asking him to do the right thing for everyone,” Young said. “This is not the scandal-ridden leadership we need in Washington.”
Each has made it clear in their public statements that they are not speaking on behalf of the party.
Those familiar with discussions by Missouri GOP leaders told The Independent there was concern that a formal denouncement by the party itself would likely backfire and help Greitens’ anti-establishment campaign strategy. Any attempt to block him from the ballot, as the party has done with two state legislative candidates this year, was likely no longer possible since he’d already paid his filing fee.
And even if it could keep him off the August ballot, the party worried Greitens would simply run as an independent in the fall and surrender the seat to a Democrat.
The political conundrum may have the Missouri GOP biting its tongue, but it hasn’t dissuaded women who have long worked behind the scenes to build the party.
“If Republicans nominate Greitens, they seriously risk losing their credibility as the champions of family values issues,” said Thomas, who has served as treasurer for the party for years, including when Greitens was governor.
History of abuse allegations
Greitens was forced to resign from the Missouri governor’s office in 2018 to settle a felony charge and avoid impeachment.
His campaign to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt was pitched as his redemption tour, with Greitens claiming exoneration from the litany of accusations that ended his tenure as governor.
Since joining the campaign, he has led in polls of GOP primary voters, and a crowded field of candidates meant Greitens could claim the nomination without winning a majority — just like he did during his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2016.
But last month, an affidavit filed by Greitens’ ex-wife as part of an ongoing child custody battle threatened to upend his campaign.
Greitens was accused of “unstable and coercive” behavior, including physically abusing their children. His ex-wife described numerous acts of violence, and said Greitens became so unstable in the months before his resignation in 2018 that his access to firearms had to be limited.
A spokesman for Greitens’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but the former governor has denied all of his ex-wife’s allegations and has accused her of coordinating with his political enemies to undermine his campaign for Senate.
Yet the latest charges echo those made by a woman with whom Greitens had a brief affair in 2015.
She testified under oath in 2018 as part of impeachment proceedings that Greitens taped her hands to pull-up rings in his basement, blindfolded her, spit water into her mouth, ripped open her shirt, pulled down her pants and took a photo of her to use as blackmail to keep her from talking about their relationship.
The woman said that as she tried to leave the basement, Greitens grabbed her in a “bear hug” and laid her on the floor. Then he started fondling her, pulled out his penis and coerced her into oral sex while she wept “uncontrollably.”
The allegations led to a felony invasion of privacy charge that was dropped during jury selection when a judge agreed to allow Greitens’ attorneys to call the prosecutor as a witness. A special prosecutor decided against refiling charges, citing statutes of limitation that had or were about to pass and potentially missing evidence.
Evans, the former executive director of the Missouri GOP, said Greitens has a demonstrated pattern of abusive behavior, pointing to run ins he had with former political rivals, fellow Republicans in the legislature and the women who accused him of physical violence.
“He bullied his opponents in the gubernatorial primary, bullied legislators, bullied women and even bullied his own children,” she said.
Twice this year, the Missouri GOP has sought to block candidates from running under the party’s banner by rejecting their filing fee.
The party refused to accept filing fees from state Rep. Patricia Derges, a Nixa Republican under federal indictment over allegations she sold fake stem cell treatments, and Steve West, who has previously sought a Kansas City-area House seat despite years of racist and anti-semitic statements.
But because candidate filing ended last week, and Greitens filed and paid his fee in February, only a court order could remove him involuntarily from the August primary ballot.
That leaves public condemnation as the only strategy for Greitens’ critics, something the party has thus far declined to do.
His top two rivals for the nomination — U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt — haven’t been as reticent.
Hartzler, who demanded Greitens resign as governor in early 2018 after the first round of accusations emerged, called the latest allegations part of a “pattern of criminal behavior that makes Eric unfit to hold any public office.”
Even Schmitt, who was one of the few Missouri Republicans holding a major office who never weighed in during Greitens’ 2018 downfall, broke his silence soon after Greitens’ ex-wife’s affidavit became public.
He now says Greitens should “be in prison, not on the ballot for U.S. Senate.”
Greitens has shown no indication he’s even considering dropping out, doubling down on his campaign strategy of painting all allegations of wrongdoing as part of a “witch hunt” against him.
Hoflander, the former chairwoman of the state party, noted that the two women alleging abuse against Greitens did so under oath, something the former governor has steadfastly refused to do.
“What reasonable, even what sane, stable person, would run for office under these circumstances?” she said. “I call on him to step aside and get his life in order and not have his personal troubles ‘be’ the story.”
Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.