Can we please have a round of applause for disgraced ex-Governor Eric Greitens?
Give a predator credit where credit is due. Missouri's most famous violent abuser of women and children just pulled off the impossible: He caused devout Republican gun worshippers to cheat on the Second Amendment.
Greitens unveiled an instant-classic campaign ad that almost broke the internet last Monday. In it, Greitens proclaims, "Today we're going RINO hunting." And by Trump, he does.
Armed with a long gun, a SWAT team brandishing assault rifles and way too much testosterone, Greitens and his boys break down the door to a house and storm it, guns blazing. Unlike his old days as a Navy SEAL, Greitens actually led this platoon.
"The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowards," Greitens intones into the camera. And the bullets fly.
"Join the MAGA crew," he beams. "Get a RINO hunting permit. There's no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn't expire until we save our country."
I don't know about saving the country, but Greitens certainly got its attention. Shock-and-awe sells.
The term RINO, of course, stands for "Republican in name only" — code for any politician on the red team who refuses to genuflect sufficiently at the mention of Trump. Portraying oneself as a violent "RINO hunter" is superb political marketing in MAGA world circa 2022.
If you want liberal outrage, look somewhere else. This was pure wingnut comedy gold. Others can take the bait by dignifying this attention junkie with the horrified reaction he craves. Not me.
Could a disgusting ad like this provoke an act of violence against some poor moderate Republican? Technically yes, but let's get real: That horse is miles out of the barn. I'm not signing on as an extra for Greitens' movie by missing the bigger picture here.
The real threat to America's safety is the Republican Party's continued fealty to the National Rifle Association and others resisting sanity in gun control. In a country tragically overrun with unregulated armaments — including military weaponry in civilian hands — we've got a lot more to worry about than some vile campaign ad.
Spare me the kumbaya moment where we all join hands to condemn Greitens and imply that he's some outlier among Republicans, when he is not. Wake me when we're ready to ban assault weapons again.
For now, I prefer watching these scorpions in a jar. The race to fill the seat of retiring Senator Roy Blunt (RINO-MO) has devolved into a pathetic scrum of veteran politicians foregoing all pretense of dignity to flop around in a Trump grovelers' mud pit.
They deserve the inconvenience presented by Greitens' ad. It's easy for normal people to recoil at the ad's barbarity. Not so much if you're a politician who has made a career out of conflating guns and God.
If you want to be the next Republican U.S. senator from Missouri, you better not be seen throwing shade on assault weapons, not for any reason. To MAGA world, tough guys in battle fatigues busting down a door while spraying bullets at invisible bad guys is just so cool.
Finding that offensive is no way to connect with the Trump base. Context is for snowflakes. Nuance is for former politicians.
There's also this dilemma: It's nearly impossible to attack an ad attacking RINOs without coming off like a RINO. And perhaps humorless, which is just about as bad a sin. Consider this:
"If these clowns really believe that Governor Greitens should not be a candidate, why is he leading the entire field by a mile in recent public polling? What does that say about their preferred candidates?" Greitens campaign manager Dylan Johnson told the Daily Beast. "These swamp creatures and grifters know their time at the trough is finished. That's why they're scared of America First champion Governor Greitens."
Maybe that explains why the actor formerly known as Attorney General Eric Schmitt basically kept his head down rather than attack Greitens last week. Somehow, Schmitt feels safer attacking school districts or Twitter liberals than engaging a bully with a big gun.
U.S. Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-Harrisonville) did feel a little braver, as reported by the Post-Dispatch.
"Eric Greitens is an abuser, a blackmailer, and less than ten years ago — a Democrat. There is no basement too low for him to cover up his past Obama support & blindfold Missourians into believing he represents their values," she wrote on Twitter.
Now, that's a fine statement we can all rally around, right? You tell him, Vicky Hartzler. Why this guy's not only an abuser and blackmailer, why even worse he once was a Democrat. An Obama-supporting Democrat, no less.
Funny thing about Hartzler's statement, though: She left out the part about assault weapons. That's an interesting omission, seeing as how the congresswoman hasn't been shy about discussing them before.
You know, like in that taxpayer-paid mailer that Missouri voters received — in the days after the tragic massacre of children in Uvalde, Texas — showing Hartzler brandishing an assault weapon like the one used by the murderer.
In it, she calls herself "Missouri's 2nd Amendment Defender," the Post-Dispatch quoted the mailer as stating. "Her congressional voting record has resulted in A ratings from the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which are two gun-rights advocacy groups."
That underscores a larger point: There's not nearly as much difference between Greitens and his less-colorful primary opposition as the Republicans would have voters believe. In fact, there's really nothing different at all beyond style points.
Hartzler, Schmitt and nearly all the other passengers in the GOP clown car would vote no differently than Greitens on the matters that may determine whether America remains a democracy. Not only do they all agree on all the precepts of Trumpism, but they've supported Trump's attempted insurrection.
Schmitt has abused Missouri taxpayers by misusing the resources of his public office for repeated failed legal efforts to overthrow the 2020 election. Schmitt is as much of an insurrectionist as Senator Josh Hawley, who is supporting Hartzler.
She and primary rival U.S. Representative Billy Long (R-Springfield) both refused to certify President Joe Biden's electoral victory. At a time when Republicans were working feverishly to subvert state election systems so that the next Trump insurrection would succeed, that matters a whole lot more than whether their ads are tasteful.
We'll know soon enough if Trump wants to bestow his prized endorsement on Greitens or one of his leading challengers. It's not certain he'll endorse anyone. It is certain that his choice will win the Republican primary.
The only suspense is whether Greitens' RINO-hunters ad might backfire by embarrassing Republicans enough nationally to cause Trump to endorse one of his rivals. The national media was buzzing about that possibility at the end of last week.
In the meantime, there's no need to get worked up about a campaign ad.
When it comes to what matters, they're all Eric Greitens.