It’s come to this: Senate Republicans are on track to prevent a formal inquiry into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The party that once made patriotism its brand has now become an accessory after the fact (and in some cases, before the fact) in the worst domestic attack on the U.S. government since the Civil War.
How did the GOP get like this?
For an answer, let’s review the lineup for the Republican nomination to Missouri’s soon-to-be-open Senate seat:
• Eric Greitens was elected Missouri governor after making national news for a campaign ad in which he fires a machine gun into a field for no apparent reason. He made national news again, two years later, with his crash-and-burn exit from office under allegations of political corruption and personal depravity. Greitens thinks this qualifies him for the Senate. Donald Trump’s inner circle agrees.
• Eric Schmitt’s brief tenure as Missouri’s attorney general has been notable for his filing of silly, doomed lawsuits, including one against China, in pathetic pursuit of headlines. (Suggested campaign slogan: A vote for Schmitt will make Beijing … nervous.)
• Mark McCloskey waved a gun around at protesters who were walking peacefully past his house, and then — well, actually, that’s it, that’s his entire political résumé. He’s the quintessential MAGA candidate. Meaning, a lying blowhard who’s facing felony charges.
What they all have in common is that their respective pitches have little to do with policy and everything to do with ideological showmanship. Each would be a good fit with a national GOP that has dropped all pretense of responsible governance to embrace a party-wide howl of paranoia, grievance and bile.
Like so much of the GOP’s pathology today, the fact that the state’s Republican voters next year will have to choose between three guys vying to howl the loudest can be laid largely at Trump’s gold-plated doorstep. Even now, the narcissistic ex-president brutally enforces a decree that policy means nothing, that personal loyalty to him is the first, last and only prerequisite for relevance in the Republican Party. Just ask Liz Cheney.
As we reported in this space recently, Greitens is the early favorite of Trump’s inner circle. To recap: Greitens was credibly accused of sexual misconduct, physical abuse and blackmail stemming from an affair with his hairdresser prior to his 2016 election as governor. The allegations included snapping a nonconsensual image of her while she was bound, blindfolded and partly unclothed, and threatening to publicize it if she exposed their affair. Greitens defiantly denied that and the separate campaign finance allegations — and was so confident of vindication that he resigned his governorship rather than face likely impeachment and prosecution.
If this isn’t the kind of character that Missouri needs in a senator, what is?
Schmitt, appointed as state attorney general to fill a vacancy in 2018, didn’t have those public image problems. His problem was that he lacked any significant public image at all. He has certainly remedied that by filing suit against China over its role in the pandemic — taking a xenophobic page from Trump’s playbook and demonstrating once again that Jefferson City, not Washington, is the real epicenter of U.S. foreign policy.
Schmitt also sued St. Louis County over its coronavirus restrictions and sued the federal government to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Because nothing says “public service” like trying to endanger people’s health during a pandemic while simultaneously trying to take away their health care coverage.
Then there’s McCloskey.
The St. Louis personal-injury lawyer and his wife, fellow ambulance-chaser Patricia McCloskey, are the Central West End couple who pointed their guns last summer at protesters who were walking to then-Mayor Lyda Krewson’s home. McCloskey is the only one of the three candidates who has never held political office — and the only one to get a speaking role at last year’s Republican National Convention. Actual accomplishment is nice and all, but what really counts in today’s GOP is doing your “Scarface” impersonation in front of your mansion (“Say hello to my little friend!”).
In some ways, McCloskey is the most Trump-like of this bunch. In addition to the conspicuous display of wealth, including a home that evokes all the subtlety of a Roman orgy, the McCloskeys have a long history of suing everyone in sight: neighbors, employers, even close relatives. The couple still faces felony charges over the gun-waving incident, even as the Trump Organization is under criminal investigation in New York.
But the ultimate similarity between Trump and McCloskey is in their shameless mythmaking. Just as Trump tried to lie his way to reelection by falsely claiming mass vote fraud, McCloskey is trying to lie his way into the Senate by claiming he was a besieged hero defending his home — as opposed to being the barefoot jackass cradling a semi-automatic phallic symbol that the whole world laughed at last year.
All of the above notwithstanding, in today’s polarized environment, a red state like Missouri simply won’t elect a Democrat next year, no matter the alternative. That same environment makes it unlikely that one of the increasingly rare grownups in the Missouri GOP can wrench the nomination from the Trumpier-than-thou crowd. Which means one of these three circus barkers is very likely going to the Senate. This is how the GOP got like this.