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Trump and Parson

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a lunch in 2018 with governors at the White House.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The battle lines are drawn between Gov. Mike Parson and his likely Democrat challenger, State Auditor Nicole Galloway, in their mutual quest for election to Missouri’s top office. Galloway has already distinguished herself with strong, unequivocal stands on controversial issues, whereas Parson has lulled Missourians with his low-key, non-assertive approach.

Don’t get us wrong. We like Parson. He made a great lieutenant governor. But after succeeding disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens in the top job, Parson has opted repeatedly for political safety instead of bold leadership. For all of Greitens’ many character flaws and failings, no one ever called him boring.

Parson now is seeking political shelter under President Donald Trump’s protective umbrella, wrongly assuming that Missourians are so enthralled with the embattled president that anything he touches will turn to election gold in 2020. Voting results from 2016 onward have suggested, however, that Missourians are not red-voting robots. Although Trump won the state handily in 2016, Missouri voters have proven far more discerning with candidates and issues further down the ballot.

If Trump’s unpopularity grows along with his corruption scandals, words like the ones Parson uttered last week in support of Trump could come back to bite him. Parson, speaking to reporters, belittled the impeachment process against Trump as a “waste of time” and asserted that Missourians aren’t terribly concerned about what’s transpired so far.

“I think he’s on the right track for this country,” Parson said. “I think he truly is trying to do good things for this country. I’m going to totally support the president of the United States.”

Similarly famous last words were uttered by multiple gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates in states that were presumed to be reliably red, such as Kentucky and Alabama. Democrats took full control of the Virginia Legislature for the first time since 1994. Missourians defied Republican orthodoxy last year by approving the “Clean Missouri” ballot measure despite GOP warnings that it would boost Democratic competitiveness in future elections.

There’s growing concern that Trump is turning more into a liability than an asset for Republican candidates. Candidates rely on the same ol’ GOP talking points at their peril. Nobody’s asking Parson to rappel or blow up cars like Greitens did, but it’s safe to say Missourians want to be inspired.

Yet when violent gun crime soars in major Missouri cities, Parson wrings his hands with worry that the Legislature might react negatively if he advocates tougher gun laws. He accepts big donations from tobacco interests while shying away from boosting taxes to protect children from smoking hazards. When rural communities raised concerns about smelly, polluting, industrial pig farms, Parson sides with the industrialists.

Parson’s soft-spoken style makes him the kind of guy you might enjoy drinking a beer with. But Missouri needs a leader, not a bar buddy.