When Eric Greitens and Eric Schmitt were born a year apart in St. Louis County, Republicans were still regular humans.
The Republican president back then, Gerald R. Ford, was a truly decent man. Missouri's Republican governor, Kit Bond, was a bold and progressive young reformer. As for Donald Trump, well, he wasn't a Republican at all, just some racist trust-fund kid who had been popped by the Nixon administration for refusing to rent New York apartments to Black people.
Greitens was born in April 1974 (actually four months before Richard Nixon resigned) and Schmitt just 14 months later, both here in the county. Each man would stake out a fine career, and as recently as 2015 neither the converted Democrat Greitens nor the conventional Republican Schmitt seemed anything out of the order ideologically.
Greitens ran for office as an outsider who would clean up corruption, ban lobbyist gifts and the like. Sure that all turned out to be fraudulent, but it sounded normal enough at the time. Schmitt was your basic pro-business Republican pushing ideas like developing a China hub for St. Louis Lambert International Airport, an idea far more rational than what he has to say about that nation today.
But then came Trump. And people got to know Greitens and Schmitt. And that was that.
Today, the two Erics are fully grown politician-demagogues. Both identify as Republicans but are far better described by their wormy allegiance to Trump, who has bloomed into a full-blown fascist and owner of the GOP. Whatever normality they might once have stood for has long ago given away to red-meat, Trump-base politics.
The two Erics might be on a collision course for the U.S. Senate seat that will be vacated next year by retiring Senator Roy Blunt. Schmitt has all but thrown his hat into the ring. Greitens chose today to emerge from his basement and announced his candidacy on Fox News, hopeful that Missouri Republicans have forgotten how badly he bullied and embarrassed them as a half-term sleazeball governor.
There are other career politicians waiting in the wings to go after Blunt's seat. Two are incumbent Republican members of Congress who would have to give up their jobs to run: Rep. Ann Wagner, St. Louis County, and Rep. Jason Smith, Limbaugh Country. Both apparently are hearing voices in their heads, as translated by their Twitter accounts.
Says Wagner: "I am humbled by the outpouring of encouragement from folks across our great state today. I take their outreach seriously, and plan to discuss with my family what the future holds for me in the coming days."
Says Smith: "I am truly humbled by the outreach from Missourians interested in ensuring Missouri continues to have a strong voice in the United States Senate."
What a coincidence. Either Wagner and Smith share a speechwriter or getting humbled by outreach is trending in the political class. Seriously, is there anything more pathetic than a politician inventing a movement to draft themself and then breaking down with emotion over the honor of it all?
Whether Wagner or Smith decides that the common folk of Missouri just cannot bear the thought of them not being senator will likely come down to math: If there's a solid lane to carve out in a multi-candidate field race, they'll run. If not, the masses will stage a huge outpouring of support for them to stay in their House seats.
There of course will be others: Right-wing businessman John Brunner is considering whether he'd like to lose again. Brunner's main claim to fame was getting famously brutalized by Greitens in a taunting phone call in the 2016 gubernatorial primary race.
On the Democratic side, former state Sen. Scott Sifton is already in the race, joined by by newcomer Lucas Kunce, a Yale grad and former Marine officer. Expect numerous other politicians to receive a humbling outpouring of support.
Still, the main attraction would be the Clash of the Two Erics, if God would smile upon the media just this once. Mitigating against it is the fact that Schmitt was one of only two statewide Republican officeholders never to demand Greitens' resignation when his pull-up bar crashed upon him in 2018. (The other was Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who has decided not to seek Blunt's seat).
One can only assume, however, that Schmitt's prior lack of political courage (or was it not having a moral compass?) will not matter to Greitens, the world-class narcissist who has never been known to place principle over self-interest. And what a battle it would be to stake out the claim of being the most loyal subject of The Almighty Orange One.
I can see the debate now:
Schmitt: "I took the lead among all Republican attorneys general in spending taxpayer dollars to stop the steal in 2020! We sued everyone to overthrow this election! Hell, it's all I've done for the last four months."
Greitens: "Yeah, sure. But if I'd been in office, we'd have had some boys from Missouri doing a little recon work in the Capitol on January 6, if you know what I mean. Not to say we didn't anyway, or that we did. Just like we used to say in the Navy SEALs, 'Where we go one, we go all.'"
Schmitt: "Big deal. Where were you when that urban woman was trying to prosecute the great patriots Mark and Patricia McCloskey? Hell, I was one of the first to declare their innocence, and I'm still part of the prosecution side! You add that to me never disappointing white folks, and I got some MAGA going on here."
Greitens: "If I had been governor, the McCloskeys would have felt free to shoot those people, and that would have been the end of it."
Schmitt: "Big talk. I'm the only one who has sued China and personally brought Xi Jinping to his knees."
Greitens: "China? Ha! The home office in Moscow says it has never even heard of you."
Schmitt: "Well, I'm the only one making headlines by demanding that the Biden radical socialist remove illegal immigrants to save us from sex crimes."
Greitens: "Big whoop. I was going to close the Arkansas border when I was governor and would have built that wall if it wasn't for so-called 'sex crimes.' By the way, only one of us have an ex-wife, pal, and someday I may have three, like the Greatest President in the History of Our Country."
There would be nothing like a Clash of the Erics to make Missouri politics great again. Or at least more memorable.
Unlike the previous political histories of Eric Greitens and Eric Schmitt.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).