Opinion | Eric Greitens’s RINO hunting ad shows GOP radicalization pipeline

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A disgraced former governor and disgraceful Senate candidate from Missouri, Eric Greitens, has intentionally set off controversy with his “RINO hunting” ad. It depicts an armed Greitens, joined by a squad of heavily armed men in tactical gear, busting down a door and throwing flash grenades with the intent of killing “Republicans in name only.” “Get a RINO-hunting permit,” Greitens urges. “There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”

The Missouri Fraternal Order of Police has condemned the ad as “deplorable.” The conservative Eagle Forum PAC has called it “deeply disturbing, authoritarian and anti-conservative.” Former Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock of Virginia has described it as “sick and dangerous.”

Greitens — taking refuge in literary argot — has responded that the ad is merely a “metaphor.”

Eric Greitens resigned as Missouri governor over an affair and blackmail claims. Now he’s running for Senate.

Metaphors are part of my trade as a writer. One might be: Greitens is like a fetid pool of political pond scum. No, sorry, that is a simile. A metaphor would be: Greitens is a fetid pool of political pond scum.

Calling upon a MAGA mob soaked in furious resentment and bristling with heavy weaponry to kill insufficiently radical Republicans is not the equivalent of “all the world’s a stage.” It is the incitement to violence of a rather literal-minded group. The movement that has no moral bottom is finally within sight of one. What is the next step beyond urging your followers to murder your political opponents? It is murdering your political opponents.

As someone who grew up in a very religious and conservative St. Louis community, I have always known people who would have approved of the Greitens ad. But at the time they were fringe figures in a Republican Party that repeatedly sent the moderate and morally admirable John Danforth to the US Senate. Now the radical, authoritarian right has been cultivated by an American president, promoted by conservative media and blessed by religious leaders — all of whom have provided permission for conspiracy-obsessed extremism. And Danforth is attempting to recruit John Wood, an investigative counsel for the House investigation committee Jan. 6, to run as an independent in the Missouri Senate race. It is an example of the decision faced by many rational Republicans: resistance within a dangerously radicalized GOP or recourse to political options outside it. I do not criticize Danforth’s choice.

Missouri used to be something of a battleground state (both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton won there). But now, like Ohio, Iowa and some other places, it has become Trump country. This does not mean all the Danforth Republicans have left their party or state. But it does mean that someone like Greitens can lead a crowded Republican primary field with about a quarter of the vote. And if he secures the nomination by rallying the RINO-hunting base, a broader phenomenon of negative partisanship will kick in. GOP voters — resentful of liberal elitism, or concerned by the pace of social change, or alienated by economic views, or committed to the pro-life — are likely to vote according to their party identification. This is the radicalization pipeline within the GOP. And it could send a man without conscience or character to the Senate.

Henry Olsen: The GOP must make it clear: Eric Greitens’s ad is out of bounds

It is possible that this approach won’t work for Greitens, who has baggage well over the political weight limit. He resigned from the governorship under a thick cloud of controversy, which has followed him since he left office. He was accused of sexually assaulting and attempting to blackmail his partner in an affair. He was accused of misusing a charity donor list to raise campaign funds. He stands accused by his ex-wife of abusing her and their children. (Greitens denies these charges.)

The Republican majority leader of the Missouri Senate, Caleb Rowden, recently tweeted in response to the RINO ad: “Anyone with multiple accusations of abuse toward women and children should probably steer clear of this rhetoric.” Suffice it to say that people in glass houses should not shoot AR-15s.

Yet Greitens boasts of the 3.5 million views his ad has achieved, along with the money it has raised for his campaign. Republicans who criticize him are, in his less violent metaphor, “snowflakes.” Greitens obviously thinks — informed by instinct or polling — that the time for homicidal conservatism has arrived.

His victory in Missouri would be an embarrassment to our state, and one hopes his would-be Senate colleagues would shun him entirely. But the damage would still be considerable. A Greitens win would further sunder character from politics. His presence in the Senate would the kind of lawlessness and violence that flooded the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when insurrectionists seek to utilize their RINO-hunting permits on a Republican vice president. Greitens has opened the cage of an untamable evil. It is the duty and privilege of Missouri voters to defeat him.

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