GOP panics as indicted governor's troubles threaten entire party


Gov. Eric Greitens is blowing up the Republican Party in Missouri — and it could not be better timing for Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Missouri's Republican Gov. Eric Greitens continues to fight for his legal and political life. And according to the Kansas City Star, the party is increasingly terrified it could take down state attorney general and GOP Senate candidate Josh Hawley, handing Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill an easy re-election.

"The golden rule is 'Don't dump on another Republican'," complained GOP state Rep. Kevin Engler. "The governor is going to do everything he can to save himself. And I'm sure the attorney general's doing everything he can to distance himself from the governor ... Hopefully, they won’t do any permanent damage to the party."

St. Louis Republican strategist Gregg Keller was more blunt. "He doesn't care about the Republican Party ... he's absolutely willing to burn it all down ... not just control of the U.S. Senate, but endangering our supermajorities in the Missouri House and Senate that many of us worked decades and the better parts of professional lives to create."

Greitens, a freshman governor elected with close support from Mike Pence, faces charges of computer tampering for allegedly obtaining donor information from a charity for campaign purposes. He was also indicted on felony invasion of privacy in connection with the alleged sexual assault and blackmail of his former hairdresser. That charge was dropped, but it may soon be refiled by a special prosecutor.

Hawley, who led one of the investigations into Greitens, has called for him to resign. Greitens has called his mounting legal troubles a "witch hunt," ran ads implying he's the victim of a liberal plot, sought a restraining order against Hawley, and attacked him as "better at press conferences than the law."

Missouri Republicans have feared a civil war scenario for weeks. But the party is divided on whether to support Greitens. Furthermore, Hawley may not gain crossover appeal by fighting Greitens, because Missouri Democrats believe he waited too long to investigate the governor out of political expediency.

And other Republicans are trying to take advantage of the chaos. Austin Petersen, a former libertarian presidential candidate who recently raised eyebrows for hitting on a college student at one of his events, commissioned an internal poll last week that purports to show he can wrest the nomination from Hawley.

The result is that a Senate race once considered one of the GOP's best pickup opportunities is slipping away from them. Hawley has not led any poll in the RealClearPolitics aggregation since January, and the most recent poll from Missouri Scout puts McCaskill up 4 points.

McCaskill, a moderate Democrat who fought tooth and nail against health care repeal and the GOP tax scam, is a legendary survivor, most recently winning re-election in 2012 after her opponent, Todd Akin, implied survivors of "legitimate rape" do not get pregnant. But it would be wrong to think of her as just lucky — she is a skilled and committed public servant, having won five of the six offices she has run for.

Republicans are right to fear Hawley may be losing his chance to beat her. She would be formidable in any environment — and Greitens' political kamikaze mission against his party is merely the latest blow.