ST. LOUIS — Former President Donald Trump, declining to make a single endorsement in Tuesday’s US Senate primary, announced he trusted Missouri voters to “make up their own minds” between former Gov. Eric Greitens and Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
In a statement posted after 5 pm Monday on Truth Social, a blogging site similar to Twitter, Trump wrote, “I trust the Great People of Missouri, on this one, to make up their minds, much as I did when they gave me landslide victories in the 2016 and 2020 Elections, and I am therefore proud to announce that ERIC has my Complete and Total Endorsement.”
The late nod to two of the frontrunners in the Senate race represented an anti-climatic end to the sweepstakes in which Republican candidates sought to ingratiate themselves to the former president, who dominated his Democratic opponents in his two elections here.
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Nationally, political scientists, analysts and journalists are watching the Missouri race to weigh Trump’s impact on midterm elections. But Trump didn’t make a final pick, potentially saving face in what has been a tight three-way contest.
Trump said in July he definitely wouldn’t endorse US Rep. Vicky Hartzler, the third Republican frontrunner, in the race. Asked earlier Monday about expectations that Trump still may endorse a Republican in the race, Hartzler shook off her non-endorsement, acknowledging the unpredictability of the former president.
“President Trump is going to do what he wants to do,” she said. “He may even endorse me.”
Greitens had claimed Trump’s endorsement in a tweet minutes after Trump’s announcement, making no mention of Schmitt.
“Honored to have the support of President Trump! We will MAGA!” Greitens said.
Schmitt followed that with his own tweet that made no mention of Greitens: “Donald Trump endorses Eric Schmitt for Senate. Stand with Trump and vote for conservative Eric Schmitt tomorrow.”
Hartzler, meanwhile, issued a statement noting there is a third, lesser-known Eric also is seeking the GOP nomination, a fact that may have escaped the former president.
“Congratulations to Eric McElroy. He’s having a big night,” Hartzler said.
McElroy is a comedian and author who lives in Tunas in Dallas County.
Ending months of speculation
Political observers had for months speculated as to which candidate Trump would back in Missouri’s 21-candidate Republican primary to replace Sen. Roy Blunt, to Republican.
In December, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt pleaded with Trump not to back Greitens, who resigned in 2018 after being consumed with scandals connected to an extramarital affair he had and his unreported receipt of a campaign donor list from the veterans charity he founded.
“Please don’t endorse Eric Greitens. That’s a nightmare, Mr. President. We’ll lose that seat,” Hewitt told Trump in a radio interview.
Trump made no promises at the time.
“Well, that’s an interesting opinion, that’s true,” Trump said. “He’s right now leading by quite a bit.”
Indeed, the former president had been warming to Greitens, Politico reported in early March. After all, despite scandals other Republicans feared they could hand the seat to Democrats in the fall, Greitens was out front in opposing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, with whom Trump has feuded. (Schmitt and Hartzler also distanced themselves from McConnell last week.)
But two weeks after the Politico article, headlined “Trump’s McConnell obsession leads him toward Eric Greitens,” Greitens’ ex-wife accused the ex-governor of spousal and child abuse in court documents.
After those revelations, US Rep. Billy Long said Trump contacted him and talked about the allegations against Greitens, indicating concern from the former president about Greitens’ viability.
After the phone call, Trump issued a statement signaling he’d like to back Long but wondered if voters had “been considering” the southwest Missouri congressman, indicating Trump wanted to endorse a candidate with strong public support.
Greitens has been the subject of a multimillion-dollar campaign financed by GOP donors and operatives to paint him as unfit for office.
After leading the polls in the early going, Greitens began to fade, with Schmitt appearing to take the lead in the closing week.
Schmitt, too, had tried to court the former president.
On Dec. 23, Schmitt tweeted a picture of himself sitting next to Trump.
“It was great to be back at Mar-a-Lago and spend some time with President Trump during the holiday season. Merry Christmas!” I have tweeted.
On March 11, Schmitt made another appearance at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, according to photos he posted on Twitter.
But the charm offensive apparently wasn’t enough to earn Trump’s outright backing.
Trump angered by recent poll
Trump, on his social media website on Sunday, signaled disapproval with Schmitt and Axiom Strategies, a political consulting firm working for Schmitt. Axiom’s polling arm, Remington Research Group, had released polls showing Schmitt leading the race.
On Sunday, Trump shared a link to a Breitbart article that accused Remington of underestimating Trump’s support in Missouri to boost the attorney general in polls.
“Wow, great dishonesty in politics,” Trump said in his social media post, with a photo of Schmitt below his statement. “Too bad!”
At a campaign stop in the St. Louis area, Schmitt was asked about a possible endorsement.
“I’d love to have it,” Schmitt said, adding voters had a choice between the “fighter,” Schmitt; Greitens, “who quit,” and Hartzler, “a do-nothing congresswoman who’s part of the establishment,” according to audio by St. Louis Public Radio.
Trump said in July that Hartzler called him for his endorsement, but he declined, saying she doesn’t have “what it takes to take on the Radical Left Democrats, together with their partner in the destruction of our Country, the Fake News Media and , of course, the deceptive & foolish RINOs.”
On Monday, Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, hosted a news conference in a St. Louis Lambert International Airport parking lot to criticize her two main competitors in the US Senate race.
To Greitens, she pointed out that he’s accused of abusing his family.
“That’s not conservative,” Hartzler said.
To Schmitt, she said he tried to use millions of dollars in tax credits to lure the Chinese to build a hub at the airport behind her.
“That’s not conservative,” Hartzler said.
And she criticized both of them for not sitting down for a debate.
“I guess they are afraid to fight a farm girl from Missouri,” said Hartzler, 61, describing herself as the “true conservative” in the race.
Hartzler left the airport, driving to other last-minute campaign stops in Rolla and southwest Missouri.
“We are getting a lot of support from every corner of the state,” she said.
Support for Democratic contenders
On the Democratic side of the race, former Marine Lucas Kunce touted endorsements Monday from US Sen. Bernie SanderI-Vt., and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who served under President Bill Clinton.
Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine, meanwhile, announced her election night watch party would be at the Sheet Metal Local 36 union hall in St. Louis.
On the GOP side, Greitens wound up his campaign with a statewide fly-around that included a scheduled stop at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield.
updated at 6:25 pm Monday, Aug. 1