Trouble Lurked between the Lines of Greitens' Perfect Story

By McDermott, Kevin; Chadde, Sky et al. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 30, 2018 | Go to article overview

Trouble Lurked between the Lines of Greitens' Perfect Story


McDermott, Kevin, Chadde, Sky, formerly of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


From the start, Eric Greitens' story sounded like something from the book jacket of a not-quite-believable political thriller: Handsome young Rhodes scholar-turned-war hero -- who also worked with refugees in Rwanda, land mine victims in Cambodia and Mother Teresa in India -- goes home and gets elected governor to clean up corruption.

But in politics, as in life, things that look too good to be true generally are.

Greitens' stunning rise in politics over the past three years was the culmination of a life of remarkable achievement, including decorated service in the elite Navy SEALs, the founding of a respected national nonprofit and authorship of several best-selling books.

To his many supporters in academia, publishing and among military veterans, a path to a governorship and beyond seemed almost preordained.

"Eric Greitens had wrestled with political ambition for most of his life. He sensed it was radioactive, to be handled very carefully," Time journalist Joe Klein wrote -- presciently, it seems now -- in his 2015 book "Charlie Mike: A True Story of Heroes Who Brought Their Mission Home." The book lionizes Greitens as one of those heroes.

"[C]ould you run a campaign for Governor of Missouri -- as always, Eric's ambitions were not modest -- based on biography and values, rather than platitudes and reflexive attacks?" Klein wrote. "He would show people how he would behave in office, not just tell them."

In hindsight, though, Greitens' spectacular flame-out over the past five months, ending with his edge-of-tears announcement Tuesday that he is stepping down as Missouri's governor, was perhaps as preordained as his rise. A potentially combustible flaw of hypocrisy could be glimpsed in the space between Greitens' words and actions before and during his tenure in office.

It's unsurprising today that a politician would present his picture-perfect family to the voters while cheating on his wife, which we now know was happening during the 2015 launch of Greitens' gubernatorial campaign. The divorce in his past, and the fact that he'd switched political parties from Democrat to Republican before seeking office, were equally unshocking.

But other aspects of Greitens' Jekyll-and-Hyde political career were less pedestrian.

Greitens campaigned on a vow to bring more civility to politics, then was caught on tape seething at a political opponent so angrily that it bordered on physical threat. He chided incumbent politicians for hiding the sources of their campaign funding, while he raised almost $2 million in "dark" money and allegedly made illegal use of fundraising records from the nonprofit he'd founded. After promising to be the most transparent governor in Missouri's history, he created a shadow funding committee and undertook other actions that have made him one of the most secretive.

Those and other issues reported during Greitens' campaign and his time in office didn't initially seem to hurt his standing among the public, which tends not to prioritize campaign-funding issues or openness with the press.

But Greitens' personal vilification of his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature -- he "poisoned the well," as one of them put it almost a year ago -- ensured that he had no political cover once the spotlight started illuminating his intertwined scandals in January.

'AN IDEAL YOUTH'

Before most Missourians had heard of Eric Robert Greitens, he had a specific fan base out there: people who admire military strength and tradition, but with humanitarian goals and a cerebral edge. The kind of people who post Winston Churchill quotes on their cubicle walls, which Greitens reportedly did while in the service.

"If ancient Sparta and Athens had teamed up to pick an ideal youth, it would have been someone like Eric Robert Greitens - an athlete, a scholar and a good citizen to boot," read the beginning of an April 1992 Post-Dispatch story about the high school soccer star's academic scholarship to Duke University. …

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