The indictment of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Thursday marked a stunning low point in a political career that had previously followed a sharply upward trajectory.
The Republican governor was booked in a St. Louis jail on charges that he photographed his former hairstylist nude and attempted to blackmail the woman, with whom he was having an extramarital affair.
Though Greitens has so far resisted resigning, the career of the man many considered to be a rising star in the GOP is on life support. His national ambitions are likely vanquished.
It wasn’t always this way. His sharp fall contrasts with his quick rise to the national political scene. Here is his story.
Greitens’s outsize career plans were evident from his earliest days. He even had a lofty professional goal in mind as a kindergartner, according to a former teacher.
“When I would read the little kindergarten books, ‘What I want to be when I grow up,’ and at the end, I would go around the circle and ask the children what they wanted to be, I remember this: He wanted to be president,” Anne Richardson, Greitens’s kindergarten teacher, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2016. “He was the only kid I ever remember saying that.”
Friends from his school days remember him as driven and competitive. One friend told St. Louis magazine that Greitens, after being chosen as a presidential candidate in a mock election, debated his opponent to pieces.
Greitens built a résumé that matched his sky-high ambitions. A graduate of Duke University, he was selected as a Rhodes scholar to study at University of Oxford in England. He earned a master’s degree in development studies and later, a PhD in politics. Along the way he spent time doing humanitarian volunteer work in Rwanda, Cambodia and with Mother Teresa in India, according to news reports.
He became a Navy SEAL officer, served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and Southeast Asia, and earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, after Sept. 11, 2001.
In 2011, his book, “The Heart and the Fist,” was published, a story about Greitens’s work as a volunteer and a Navy SEAL.
“As a kid growing up in Missouri, I loved reading stories about heroes like King Arthur, George Washington, and Pericles,” Greitens wrote in an author’s note. “Their lives were full of action and courage, and I wanted to capture that same sense of adventure in my own life. As I grew older, great mentors and friends have shown me that the path to adventure and purpose can be found in a life of service to others.”
His successful campaign for governor in 2016 was his first run for public office.
But he had been courted by officials in both parties for years.
Reporters noticed that the website ericgreitensforpresident.com had been reserved in 2009: Greitens had taken out the domain himself, seven years before he ran for governor. He was a Democrat until at least 2013 and party officials had tried before to get him to run for Congress, according to the Post-Dispatch.
When he did finally enter the race as a Republican, he faced questions about his ideological conversion. In a piece he wrote for Fox News in 2015, the year he announced his candidacy, Greitens described his change as a loss of faith in the ideals of the Democratic Party, saying that he “no longer believed in their ideas” as he got older.
“The problem is that most Democrats seem to think more money and bigger government are the solutions to virtually every single problem. They’re wrong,” he wrote. “It’s easy to give people food stamps; harder to get people into good-paying jobs. It’s easy to encourage dependency; harder to help people into a life of purpose and dignity.”
He went on to be a strong fundraiser after tamping down some of these concerns. But some traditional conservative groups declined to support him: The Missouri Farm Bureau and the National Rifle Association both endorsed the Democrat in the race, the National Review reported.
Still, Greitens was elected in November 2016 with 51 percent of the vote, “probably riding the coattails of Donald Trump,” the National Review reported. He was the second-youngest governor in the country.
As governor, Greitens took advantage of Republican supermajorities in the state’s legislative chambers to push conservative policies, winning over more fans from the right. Pushing back against unions, he signed a law to make Missouri a right-to-work state. He approved a bill to lessen restrictions on ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber. He repealed a policy that prevented churches from participating in a state program to resurface playgrounds. He has cheered on the police officers in a state still recovering from the wounds exposed by the police shooting of Michael Brown and ensuing protests.
“Farmers like his stance on regulations, gun owners see him as an ally, and the pro-lifers are pleased,” the National Review wrote of him in a glowing profile last summer headlined: “The remarkable career and bright future of Missouri’s governor.”
If there were any clouds on the horizon, perhaps it was a phone confrontation surreptitiously recorded by a primary opponent, John Brunner, that emerged in the middle of the campaign. Greitens berated Brunner over a website that Greitens believed his opponent had set up to attack him.
“Oh, John Brunner, oh, my God, you are such a weasel! Are you going to meet tomorrow or not?” Greitens said in the conversation. “I can’t wait to see you in person, John. I want to look in your eyes.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted: “In it, the warm, optimistic, motivational-speaker style of oration that Greitens uses in public was replaced with a seething anger that at times sounded threatening.”
“You know what men do, Eric? They don’t call people names,” Brunner fired back. “They sit down and talk face to face. That’s what men do.”
There was also a group of 16 Navy SEALs, both current and former, as well as some who said they served with Greitens, who published a video questioning some details about his military record and his use of it for publicity during the campaign, as well. Greitens called the video “slander against him.”
Then this January, about a year after Greitens took office, a report by KMOV, a local television station in St. Louis, emerged. It featured a recording of a with whom woman Greitens had an affair in 2015. She accused him of inviting her to his home and taking pictures of her naked, which he threatened to use against her if their relationship was ever disclosed.
“As I have said before, I made a personal mistake before I was Governor,” Greitens said in a statement on Thursday. “I did not commit a crime.”