The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP Senate candidates back Trump on almost everything. But only Greitens has joined him in publicly attacking McConnell.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

Former Missouri governor Eric Greitens (R), who is running for Senate, said Tuesday that if he wins next year, he will not support Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as former president Donald Trump tries to oust the GOP party leader.

Since announcing in March that he will run for the open Senate seat with Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) retirement, Greitens has doubled down on his support for Trump. In a statement Tuesday, Greitens said that Trump “proved to the Republican Party that the only way to meaningfully advance conservative policy is through strong, uncompromising leadership.”

“That’s why as a Republican running for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat, I am committed to finding new leadership in the Senate when Republicans win back the majority in 2022,” he said.

Trump has railed against McConnell ever since losing his reelection bid and he recently spoke with Senate Republicans and other allies about potentially deposing McConnell as the party’s top leader in the chamber, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Asked about that report, McConnell told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, “I don’t have any reaction to that.”

Greitens resigned as governor in 2018 amid allegations that he hit, groped and coerced a woman who worked as his hairdresser into sexual contact. Greitens has denied the allegations. He faced a felony invasion-of-privacy charge linked to the case, and was separately accused of improperly taking a donor list from a nonprofit group he’d founded to help his political campaign. Both charges were later dropped.

A scandal-scarred Senate candidate wants Donald Trump’s endorsement. Other Republicans worry he’ll give it.

So far, Trump’s efforts to persuade Senate Republicans to abandon McConnell appear to have borne little fruit. Greitens noted Tuesday that he is the first GOP Senate candidate running in 2022 to take such a stance.

While many of the Republicans running in Senate primaries have gone out of their way to court Trump’s support, including by backing his false claims about the 2020 election, they have been reluctant to join him in condemning the Kentucky Republican.

In recent weeks, The Washington Post has reached out multiple times to 20 Republican Senate candidates in eight states to ask if they agree with Trump that McConnell should no longer be Republican leader. Of those 20, only four responded and three of them declined to take a position on the issue.

A spokesman for Mark McCloskey, the Missouri lawyer who gained national attention for pointing his gun at Black Lives Matter protesters last summer, said in a brief interview that his candidate supports Trump’s views but did not elaborate.

Greitens’s campaign was among those that did not respond to requests for comment before he made his public announcement Tuesday.

A spokesman for Ted Budd, whose Senate campaign in North Carolina received Trump’s endorsement, said Budd’s “only focus at the moment is winning this primary and then keeping this seat Republican in the general election.”

“As relates to future leadership elections, we want to do all that we can to ensure that the Republican Leader in the next Congress is the Majority Leader, not the Minority Leader,” the spokesman said.

Similarly, Alabama Senate Republican candidate Katie Britt said she would “make no commitment to support anyone for leader.”

Carla Sands, who served as U.S. ambassador to Denmark during the Trump administration and who is running in Pennsylvania, declined to take sides on the issue.

“Right now, I’m focused on working to earn the vote of the people of Pennsylvania. I can tell you that I will approach any decision in the Senate based on what is the best for the people of Pennsylvania,” Sands said.

When reached by The Washington Post, spokespeople for other Republican Senate candidates, including some endorsed by Trump like Pennsylvania’s Sean Parnell and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), did not respond to requests for comment on whether they agree with Trump’s assessment that McConnell needs to be replaced. They also did not comment on whether they’d support McConnell as Republican leader if elected to office.

The decision by most GOP Senate candidates to avoid siding with Trump against McConnell underscores that the minority leader maintains his own power base within the party despite his feud with the former president. With regard to Senate candidates, some of that power derives from his alignment with the Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC, that has the ability to spend large sums of money in primaries and the general election.

Spokespeople for Trump did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday on whether he wants more candidates to denounce McConnell and to what degree doing so factors into his endorsement decisions.

Missouri couple who pointed guns at BLM protesters face possible law license suspension

During his time in the White House, Trump developed a mutually beneficial political relationship with McConnell despite their stark differences in personality and leadership style. But their symbiotic relationship came to an abrupt end after McConnell recognized Joe Biden as the duly elected president following the electoral college ratification on Dec. 15, 2020 and the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

While McConnell voted to acquit Trump during his second impeachment trial, he described Trump as “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol riot. Soon after, Trump lashed out at McConnell as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” who should be ousted from GOP leadership.

McConnell has since refrained from criticizing Trump, but the former president has only escalated his attacks on Kentucky Republican.

Greitens, one of several Republican Senate candidates seeking Trump’s backing, has hired a number of former Trump aides and secured the endorsement of former Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik, whom Trump pardoned after a guilty plea for tax fraud and lying to the government. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Trump campaign aide and the girlfriend of his son Donald Trump Jr., has been hired to chair the Greitens campaign.

Several Republican strategists say they worry that the lurid scandals that brought down Greitens will create an opening for a Democrats if he is the Senate nominee. More probably, they say, Greitens would just increase the costs for Republicans to win the state, diverting resources from other contests.

In an interview on former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon’s “War Room” podcast Tuesday morning, Greitens was emphatic in describing the future of the Republican Party as tied to the former president.

“The Republican Party is now the MAGA Party,” Greitens said. He added: “Unfortunately, we saw Sen. McConnell — especially after January 6 — stand up and really stab President Trump in the back. No more of the Never Trumpers. No more of weak, woke, establishment Republicans. It is time for fighters to come in, take back our country, and that includes taking back the Senate with new, strong, MAGA leadership.”

Mike DeBonis, Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.