Greitens Tests The Limits Of The Post-Decency MAGAverse
Plus: Biden's Putin "gaffe"
Eric Greitens on February 22, 2017 in University City, Missouri. (Photo: Michael Thomas/ Getty Images)
By now you know that President Biden made an off-the-cuff, off-script, and apparently unplanned declaration that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”
The moment was electrifying — a sort of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” moment — until the White House hastily walked it back, insisting that what the president really meant to say was that the butcher of Ukraine should not be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors.
“He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change,” an official said. And with that, an awfully good speech was transformed into a “gaffe.”
Sunday morning take: Biden had it right the first time.
MAGA’s hall pass from decency
Forced to resign from the governorship after a lurid sex scandal, Greitens is nevertheless a leading Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. And there has been speculation that an endorsement from Trump himself might be forthcoming.
Greitens now faces allegations from his ex-wife that he “was physically abusive and demonstrated such ‘unstable and coercive behavior’ that steps were taken to limit his access to firearms.”
In a sworn affidavit filed as part of an ongoing custody battle, Sheena Greitens detailed the allegation: “Prior to our divorce, during an argument in late April 2018, Eric knocked me down and confiscated my cellphone, wallet and keys so that I was unable to call for help or extricate myself and our children from our home,” she said. She said his “behavior included physical violence toward our children, such as cuffing our then-3-year-old son across the face at the dinner table in front of me and yanking him around by his hair.”
Greitens denied the allegations on Twitter, describing them as “fabricated.”
The reaction from Greitens’ fellow Republicans has been intense. His primary opponents — state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Rep. Billy Long — all called on him to drop out of the race. So did Sen. Josh Hawley, who tweeted: “If you hit a woman or a child, you belong in handcuffs, not the United States Senate. It’s time for Eric Greitens to leave this race.”
GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota also joined the chorus urging Greitens to quit. The chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, stopped short of pushing for a full withdrawal, but he told CNN that the allegations made by Greitens’ ex-wife are “pretty disturbing” and that he hopes they give Trump “a big pause” before he decides to endorse him. (This week Trump hinted he may be looking at other candidates.)
But, as of this writing, there’s no indication that Greitens is going anywhere. If anything, he is escalating.
As the backlash intensified, Greitens vowed to stay in the race, rushing to appear on Steve Bannon’s show and insisting that in fact he is the victim of a vast conspiracy involving Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. “I was the first person in the country to say when I'm in the Senate, I'm voting against Mitch McConnell,” he told Bannon (and repeated on Twitter). “Now, we are hearing that D.C. political operatives worked with my ex-wife to spread false allegations. But as people of faith know, the truth always comes to light.”
Beyond Greitens, domestic violence is becoming an unfortunate theme of this election cycle. In Georgia, the presumptive GOP Senate nominee, Herschel Walker, has acknowledged that he’s "accountable" for allegations of past violent behavior toward his ex-wife. And in Pennsylvania, the Trump-endorsed Senate GOP front-runner, Sean Parnell, quickly dropped out of the race when he was confronted with accusations of child and spousal abuse.
But in Missouri, Greitens has apparently decided to test the limits of unapologetic shamelessness.
And why not? Greitens has already been disgraced.
His governorship imploded in a blizzard of scandals in 2018 after a woman accused him of “coercing her to perform oral sex, undressing, kissing and touching her without her consent, and threatening to release a nude photo of her if she told anyone about their encounter.” (Greitens admitted to an affair, but denied the more serious allegations and charges originally brought by prosecutors were dropped.) He resigned rather than be impeached by the GOP Legislature.
So he’s been here before — and not very long ago.
Greitens also recognizes that the rules in the MAGAverse have changed. Now, in return for fawning over Trump, Republican politician can enjoy a morality-free zone and a force field against accountability. Trump offers liberation and redemption, in which mediocrity and venality could shelter together under a pugnacious amorality.
For his loyalists, this amounts to a Trumpian hall pass from decency, and Greitens intends to use his to the fullest.
Meanwhile, in Georgia…
The rally was also a reminder of what Trumpism requires from GOP candidates:
[Former Senator David] Perdue, meanwhile, returned the favor. He said for the first time this past week that he also was the victim of a “stolen” election when he lost the January 2021 runoff to Democrat Jon Ossoff. And at Saturday’s rally, he unveiled sharper attacks on Kemp.
“In the state of Georgia, thanks to Brian Kemp, in 2020 our elections were absolutely stolen,” Perdue said, adding that he would make sure that “whoever was responsible goes to jail” if he’s elected.
Chants of “lock him up!” directed at Kemp broke out, as Perdue smiled and flashed a thumbs-up sign.
“Please don’t make us do this again”
If Trump’s back-and-forth over [Rep. Mo] Brooks is notably sophomoric, it’s not uncharacteristic. Indeed, the party will continue to be subjected to such spectacles as long as Trump is its dominant figure, which will be for quite some time if Donald J. Trump has anything to say about it. As everyone knows, he’s seriously considering running in 2024. It’s understandable that he’d want to try to ascend once again to the most powerful office in the land, and once again bestride the nation’s news cycle like a colossus. The question for Republicans to consider over the next two years is, why would they want to go along for this ride one more time?
Tweet of the Weekend
After Putin name checked J.K. Rowling, the author fired back:
President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of trying to cancel Russia's rich musical and literary culture… in the same way he said it had cancelled "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling.”
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Keep your rants, raves, laurels, and darts coming firstname.lastname@example.org. And, remember that all Bulwark+ members can comment on any Morning Shots.
Thanks again and always for all that you and the Bulwark team do.
I started thinking this thought last night, but your Morning Shots today reaffirmed the thinkyness of it, so I decided to share.
When rejecting the political extremes and talking about the center right/center left coalition (real or merely dreamed-for), a lot of the talk is around general principles we agree on (this is what Ruy Teixeira's piece is all about, right?), and sometimes we hear talk about areas of possible compromise (you give up this, we'll give up that...).
But what I don't hear, and what I think would be interesting, is a conversation about what the Left gets right on issue X and what the Right gets right--not a surrender-y kind of compromise talk where both sides feel a sense of LOSS to accomplish a goal, but a genuine meeting of the minds and mutual acknowledgement of the other's occasional correctness.
I don't actually believe that conservatives are 100% right on any issue or that liberals are 100% right. The important issues are messy and complicated. But "grey" isn't accurate either. Or...if it is accurate, it's only accurate from a great distance. When you get in close, you see bits of black and bits of white that make up the grey.
Let's have a discussion about abortion, about guns, about freedom of religion, and really dig into the reality of these issues, which is that both sides bring wisdom to the table, but not exclusive or all-inclusive wisdom. Real, bipartisan legislation on any of these issues won't come from one side bullying the other; it will come from acknowledging and including what's wise and helpful and right from both sides of the aisle--and then refusing to let the extremes dominate the "it must be 100% our way" conversation.
I'd love to see or hear center-right conservatives and center-left liberals dig into one or more of these issues and see if they can get to, "you're right about this part, and I'm right about that part, and we can make these two parts work together" kinds of solutions.
I grew up in a politically active conservative Republican evangelical Christian homeschooling family in Indiana. I grew up attending anti-gay marriage rallies in our state capital, as well as our local Right to Life galas and annual "Life Chain" events. My dad even ran for state representative in the early 2000s, challenging a "RINO" in the Republican primary. But then I went to college and learned that "liberals" were not angry, vapid, or miserable. For many years now I have called myself a progressive, although I am also very much a realist. While I don't agree with you on every point, I have very much appreciated your podcast over the past year or so, and I respect you as an important voice of reason.
I'm writing for a reason -- it's to do with Republicans and Ukraine -- but first, some background. In 2016, I overheard my father tell a friend of his that Trump was probably the antichrist, but that he had no choice but to vote for him anyway. That's right -- my father chose to vote for the antichrist rather than Hillary Clinton. Yet within a year, my father had fallen prey to the Trump cult himself. In late March 2020, my father was convinced that COVID would be over by Easter, because Trump said so, and ultimately, he became convinced that Trump won the 2020 election, and that Sidney Powell would blow it wide open. This descent was hard to watch.
I write because this war in Ukraine is the first time I have been on the same page with my parents in a very, very long time, and it feels passing strange. My parents have organized the raising of thousands of dollars to send medical supplies to the front lines in Ukraine through a friend. They are unapologetically and without excuse on the side of Ukraine, and they believe Putin is a madman. What is odd is that they do not see this as inconsistent with their support for Trump. In fact, they seem to believe Trump is anti-Putin and pro-Ukraine, that if he were the president the U.S. would have done even more than it is, and so on and so forth.
I think the crux of it is this: Trump's words are so vague, general, and empty that his supporters can map whatever they want to see onto him. And so, they can truly believe that Trump is on the side of the Ukrainian people, that he believes Putin is a despot and must be stopped, etc.
I don't know how to break through this world of mirrors, but I'm not sure I want to. As long as my parents believe Trump is tough on Russia, they won't have second thoughts about being tough on Russia themselves. And since I don't want them opening themselves to pro-Putin propaganda, I have no desire to puncture this bizarre reality they've constructed.
How typical are my parents, among Republicans? How many Republicans are, in contrast to my parents, positive on Putin? I don't know. It's perhaps worth noting that my father fell in love with Reagan as a teen, and that he was on a nuclear submarine in the Pacific when the Cold War came to a close. The defeat of the USSR, and the optimism of Reagan, was essential to his personal and political formation. Perhaps, in this way, he is different from other Republicans. But then, Republicans, anti-Communism, and Reagan were once inextricably linked.
If you've made it this far, I hope you've found my musings interesting. I don't know where things will go, but I think it's worth noting that at least some Republicans truly do believe Trump is hard on Putin. What exactly that means for the future, I'm not certain.
If you quote anything out of my email anywhere, please don't use my name.
All the best,