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McClellan: Many political futures wrapped up in Greitens case

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As the show trial for Gov. Eric Greitens inches closer, let’s look at some possible political ramifications.

Greitens has the most to lose, of course. The man with the amazing warrior-scholar résumé seemed like a good bet to reach the White House, and a lot of wealthy people got on that horse early and anonymously. This trial could be just a stumble, or it could be a career-killer. I’m inclined to go with the former. We are talking, after all, about an affair between two consenting adults. This isn’t 1950.

Still, although the state’s case seems weak, a public trial is not going to help the governor’s brand. Even in today’s permissive society, some people, women especially, grimace at the thought of a guy having an affair in his own house. And a blindfold? It’s great that the governor is not sexually repressed, but was that a family blindfold, or does he keep a spare in the basement for unexpected visitors? Inquiring minds want to know.

» RELATED: See all the players in the Eric Greitens case

A smart play might be to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of invasion of privacy, avoid a trial and move on. The White House would still be in sight. The American people are forgiving. Or maybe forgetful. Either way, a deal might be advisable, if such a deal were offered by Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.

Oddly enough, considering this is her show, Gardner has little to lose and little to gain. Let’s say the case falls apart and gets exposed as a politically motivated sham. Her constituency isn’t going to care. The governor doesn’t have a lot of friends in St. Louis. Don’t expect any civil unrest if Greitens is acquitted.

On the other hand, people aren’t going to be dancing in the streets if he’s convicted. People here might not like him, but they don’t hate him.

Besides, what kind of reward could Gardner expect? She’s never going to win a statewide office. People in rural Missouri wake up early on election day to vote against a St. Louis politician.

The holy grail for a black politician in St. Louis is Lacy Clay’s congressional seat, but it will take more than a Greitens conviction to push Gardner to the front of that line. Mayor is a possibility, I suppose, but Tishaura Jones has already staked out that turf.

As far as holding on to her current job, her standing as circuit attorney will depend on her success with everyday crimes and the occasional police shootings.

Attorney General Josh Hawley finds himself in a delicate situation. He has already announced that he is investigating alleged ties between Greitens’ gubernatorial campaign and his charity, The Mission Continues. But Hawley is running for the U.S. Senate, so everything he does has to be calibrated with that in mind.

Hawley cannot afford to alienate Greitens’ supporters, who happen to be President Donald Trump’s supporters. Hawley is a protege of Jack Danforth, who wrote a scathing denunciation of Trump in the Washington Post last August. Danforth called Trump the most divisive political figure since George Wallace. He urged Republicans to dissociate themselves from Trump.

Now Hawley has to court the Trump voters while ostensibly investigating Greitens. Unfortunately for Hawley, he is already under fire for a less-than-enthusiastic “investigation” into the Greitens administration’s use of an app that deletes messages. Hawley has to at least appear to be making an effort on this one. But he can’t look like he’s trying too hard.

As Leon Russell so eloquently said, “I’m up on the tight wire. One side’s ice and one is fire.”

If Hawley can negotiate this problem, he could emerge as a legitimate crossover candidate, a person who can appeal to old-school Republicans while keeping the disaffected Trumpsters in the party. A man with that ability could go places. Especially if he proved himself by ousting an incumbent Democrat in a race that gets a lot of national publicity. Maybe he can be the guy who saved the Senate for the Republicans.

A guy with those chops might well have a spot on the ticket in 2024. Vice President Hawley. You cannot blame a man for dreaming about that.

On the other hand, if he falls off the tight wire, he’s stuck being attorney general.

That would mean, of course, that U.S. Sen. Claire “Houdini” McCaskill has made another great escape. For 12 years now, ever since she upset incumbent U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, her spot in the Senate has been the shiny object that Republicans have coveted.

A win would give McCaskill a very big national profile. The Dems don’t have anybody in 2020. Nobody stands out. In the time of “Me, Too,” it makes sense to nominate a woman. Also in McCaskill’s favor, she has never claimed to be a Native American.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Everybody in our little drama can dream of the White House. Except Kim Gardner. And it’s really her show. How very odd.

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