There are snakes, Eric Greitens said. “You have to live with that.”
It was almost two years ago and the Missouri Republican was still considered a long shot to win a four-way GOP primary for governor. A year and a day before, on Feb. 26, 2015, the Missouri political world was rocked with the suicide of state Auditor Tom Schweich, who had been considered the front-runner to carry the Republican flag in the 2016 governor’s race.
Greitens was using the anniversary of Schweich’s death to let the supporters of his nascent candidacy know what the “outsider” thought of Missouri politics.
“There is, obviously, something wrong with politics, and there is something particularly, deeply, disturbingly, wrong here in Missouri,” he wrote in the message to backers. “I’ve never been in politics before, but even in the brief time that I’ve been running for Governor, I’ve been exposed to some of the worst people I’ve ever known. Liars, cowards, sociopaths. They are often deeply broken and disturbed people, who — like criminals who prey on the innocent — take their pleasure and make their living by victimizing honest people. They are drawn to politics as vultures flock to rotting meat — and they feed off the carcasses of vice.”
The future governor was just getting warmed up.
“The … most vicious punishment for the pathetic people who lower themselves like slime to slander, is that they have to live with themselves. They can hire people to praise them, slip cash to people who will tell ’em — like drug dealers pushing dope on kids — it’s ok, everybody does it. They can spend money to have other people tell them comforting lies. But I believe that, deep down, they know the truth about themselves, and they see it staring back at them in the rotted, bloated, self-serving soul in the mirror. ”
Greitens called them vultures. Liars. Sociopaths. Drug dealers. Criminals. Snakes. All in one email.
“They are corrupt in ways that I didn’t know people could be corrupt,” he wrote of those in his way.
"There's no such thing as bad publicity," P.T. Barnum supposedly said. Try telling that to the Missouri House speaker caught sexting with an i…
Two years later, Greitens called the vultures and asked them for forgiveness — not for their sins, but for his. Last week, after the governor admitted an affair but denied the alleged blackmail that is now part of a criminal investigation, he and his wife, Sheena, picked up the phone and called some of the “worst people” he’s ever known and asked them if they would save his fledgling political career. He called Republicans and Democrats, House members and Senators. He called the very people he had campaigned against — calling nearly all of Jefferson City corrupt — because he had nowhere else to turn.
It was an act of desperation one year into a political life that burned like white-hot magnesium on the way up, and now is hidden away in a bunker hoping the heat dies down.
That’s not likely to happen, in part because Greitens practices politics like the former Navy SEAL he loves to remind us he is.
He doesn’t make friends, he destroys enemies. He doesn’t forge alliances; he takes hills. He won his race by smirking into the television camera while firing a machine gun into a forest. Now he’s frowning and there’s nothing but carnage surrounding him.
The vultures are flocking.
When Schweich was laid to rest, his mentor, former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth, asked the Missouri political establishment to take a collective step back and recognize the humanity of their fellow combatants in the political arena.
Words matter, Danforth said.
To Greitens, they matter so little that he installed an app on his phone to erase them. He turned his back on pledges of transparency so he could collect millions of dollars in untraceable dark money from donors seeking unknown influence. He used that money to wage political warfare against fellow Republicans, including Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, going so far as to put Schaaf’s personal cellphone number in an attack ad. He shunned and attacked the press, diminishing every bit of negative press as so much “fake news.” He shed early supporters and donors who felt betrayed by his cynical campaign after promising a new sort of politics. He wore loyalty like a badge of courage, but ultimately ripped that badge off and trampled it like a casualty of war. He became — or already was — that which he scorned.
“Our duty,” Greitens wrote in that letter he penned nearly two years ago, is to “kill the snakes.”
Late last week, Greitens called the snakes for help, and most of them simply slithered away.
“Stick a fork in him,” Schaaf wrote on Twitter.
Stick a fork in him.— Rob Schaaf (@robschaaf) January 11, 2018
Unable to move, the snake in the governor’s mansion stares in the mirror at his self-serving soul, wondering what comes next.