Sen. Roy Blunt’s decision not to seek another term in 2022 might come as a relief to Democrats frustrated by his repeated unwillingness to speak out against former President Donald Trump and the sharp extremist turn of the Republican Party. But they should be careful what they wish for. Setting aside Blunt’s refusal to hold Trump accountable for impeachable offenses, in the broader conservative spectrum, the senator was about as moderate as they get by Missouri standards.
Consider the lineup of prominent Republicans salivating at the chance to seize Blunt’s seat: Disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, state Attorney General Eric Schmitt and maybe even current Gov. Mike Parson. The list of viable Democrats with a statewide stature is pathetically small. Topping the list are State Auditor Nicole Galloway and former Secretary of State Jason Kander, who narrowly lost his 2016 challenge to Blunt by 78,000 votes.
Multiple signs suggest Blunt had privately made his intentions known to state GOP leaders. That would explain why Parson has recently grown hyper-sensitive about even minor slights, such as when he blew up over a shift in venues for his State of the State speech or when he lashed out at St. Louis-area officials who suggested the region was getting short-shrift on coronavirus vaccine distribution. Since Parson just won a new term in November, he should have been able to brush off implied criticism, but instead he has lashed out irrationally, as if something bigger were at stake.
Greitens emerged from political Siberia to state last week that he was weighing a Senate run — a bizarre notion considering that Greitens resigned under a thick cloud after admitting an extramarital affair and facing potential prosecution for alleged campaign-finance abuses. His own party leadership wanted nothing to do with him. Yet Greitens thinks he has a fighting chance as someone who, like Sen. Josh Hawley, had stayed loyal to Trump when moderates were distancing themselves.
Blunt inexplicably maintained a public posture of support for Trump at key junctures, including the first impeachment in 2019 and second impeachment shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Blunt finally drew the line by voting to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the Nov. 3 election. As chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Blunt emceed Biden’s swearing-in on Jan. 20, drawing criticism from Trump supporters for appearing a bit too cheerful and chummy with the Democrats they accused of stealing the election.
It was clear from the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month that hardline Republicans reject any notion of bipartisan cooperation or the slightest acknowledgement of responsibility for the insurrection. Against that backdrop, it was clear that a politician like Blunt could not survive in office while also holding onto his self-respect. That says more about the sad status of today’s Republican Party than it does about Blunt.