Gov. Eric Greitens’ stunning decision to resign, announced late Tuesday afternoon, marks the end of a sordid chapter in Missouri’s political history and the downfall of a once-bright star in American politics.
It’s hard to remember now, but Greitens was considered first-rank presidential material less than a year ago. Republicans across the nation marveled at his impeccable resume, his charisma, his Trump-like drain-the-swamp message.
Now the governor’s political career lies in shambles. His White House ambitions were abandoned some weeks ago, and now his future in public life appears over.
That sigh you hear is Republicans in Missouri and elsewhere rejoicing at Greitens’ unexpected decision to quit.
That starts at the top. Attorney General Josh Hawley’s Senate campaign suffered almost by the hour as the Greitens scandals played out in Jefferson City.
Hawley was in the impossible position of attacking Greitens — and angering the governor’s supporters — or backing away, only to face accusations of favoritism.
Greitens’ resignation puts a stop to most of that. Sen. Claire McCaskill will likely make an issue of Hawley’s behavior in recent months, but most voters will turn their attention to other issues — the economy, foreign affairs, tax cuts.
In a broader sense, though, the departure lifts a cloud hanging over the state, one that began to form months before the scandals broke.
Greitens and his advisers made a conscious decision to criticize virtually everyone in public life in the state, almost from the moment he took the oath of office. He routinely criticized politicians in both parties, shunning their help.
He dismantled the State Board of Education, summarily pushing through the dismissal of a well-respected commissioner of education. He insulted both of Missouri’s U.S. senators over an issue under his supervision.
His legislative proposals were rejected by overwhelming majorities in the General Assembly. In the end, he was reduced to visits to small towns, along with the occasional Facebook post.
He avoided reporters each day — journalists whose goal was to honestly reflect the governor’s views on public policy.
He was the most friendless political figure I’ve ever seen. When his troubles started, he had virtually no one in state government or national politics who would help mount a defense. He was alone.
Greitens might have preferred it that way. But it is hard to feel sympathy for any public figure who worked so hard to antagonize everyone with whom he met, save for a few police officers and military figures.
In the end, the governor made even Trump associates angry. That’s pretty hard to do.
It’s also difficult to feel sorry for a politician so intent on deflecting attention from his own problems by creating problems for other people.
And it’s hard to feel sympathy for a man credibly accused of beating a woman, forcing himself on her, and then allowing his attorneys to destroy her reputation. In that sense, the damage Greitens has done to his party, and his own reputation, will last for years.
Greitens’ tenure as governor was unnecessarily messy, combative and ultimately, fruitless. Incoming Gov. Mike Parson, who was in Kansas City Friday and spoke with The Star, will have much to do to repair the state’s political infrastructure, a process that should begin immediately.
He seems ready. On Friday, he said no one public figure is bigger than the state of Missouri. He’s right. We learned that again Tuesday.
Dave Helling is a columnist with The Kansas City Star.