It’s easy to see why Greitens could be so toxic even in a state that's galloped away from Democrats over the last decade. Greitens' political career began with promise when he was first elected to the governorship in 2016, but it swiftly began to unravel early in 2018 in the face of allegations that he'd sexually assaulted a woman he was having an affair with and blackmailed her into silence.
Prosecutors soon wound up indicting Greitens not once but twice: First on allegations of first-degree felony invasion of privacy related to the assault scandal, and soon after on unrelated charges of computer tampering involving his charity for veterans (Greitens is a former Navy SEAL). The Republican-led state legislature, which had little love for the governor after spending a year feuding with him, also took steps toward removing him from office.
Greitens finally resigned at the end of May, a move that St. Louis prosecutor Kimberly Gardner claimed came in exchange for her decision to drop the tampering charges. A short while later, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker also abandoned the assault and blackmail case, saying that while she believed Greitens' accuser, she did not think she could prove the charges.
With that abrupt fall from grace, Greitens became the shortest-tenured governor in Missouri history. His time in politics appeared to be at an end, and he spent most of the following two years avoiding the media. However, he re-emerged in February of last year after getting some mostly welcome news from the Missouri Ethics Commission. The commission announced that it was fining Greitens $178,000 after ruling that his 2016 campaign had not disclosed its coordination with a federal PAC and a nonprofit. However, it also said there was "no evidence of any wrongdoing" by Greitens himself and forgave most of the fine.
Greitens immediately laundered those findings (which concerned only his campaign, not the assault allegations) to make a broad-based claim he’d just received a “total exoneration” (he hadn't). He also didn’t rule out a 2020 primary bid for his old job as governor against his replacement, Gov. Mike Parson, though he ultimately backed off. However, he started talking up a challenge to Blunt earlier this month, arguing that the incumbent had shown insufficient fealty to Donald Trump. Just days later, Blunt ended up announcing his retirement, and Greitens kicked off his bid to succeed his would-be rival this week.
National Republicans, though, didn’t wait for Greitens to announce before discussing ways to keep him from winning the primary. Politico's Alex Isenstadt recently reported that the Senate Leadership Fund, a major super PAC close to Mitch McConnell, "has been engaged in talks about how to keep the former governor from endangering [the GOP's] hold on what should be a safe seat," though no one has settled on any precise strategies yet—at least not publicly.
Isenstadt added that Republican operatives are aware that a crowded field could make it easier for Greitens to win the nomination, though unnamed "top Republicans" acknowledged that they haven't come up with a plan to stop him at this early point in the cycle.
But Greitens’ potentially Senate colleague, fellow Republican Josh Hawley, is already kicking the former governor in the shins. While the two are both ardent fans of Trump’s favorite election conspiracy theories, they utterly despise one another. Hawley said Tuesday of his 2018 call for Greitens’ resignation, “I wouldn’t change any of that” and acknowledged he’d spoken to Trump about the race, ostensibly in the hope of dissuading him from backing Greitens. Hawley hedged, though, adding, "I'll support the Republican nominee” for this seat.