Trump says he won’t endorse Vicky Hartzler, calls Eric Greitens ‘smart’ and ‘tough’

During TV interview, the former president said Greitens was the candidate Democrats hope gets the GOP nomination

By: - July 9, 2022 11:12 am

Former President Donald Trump discussed Missouri's GOP Senate primary on social media and in a TV interview (Ralph Freso/Getty Images).

Former President Donald Trump tiptoed towards an endorsement in Missouri’s competitive GOP primary for U.S. Senate on Friday, ruling out U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler while praising former Gov. Eric Greitens.

Early Friday evening, Trump wrote on his social media site Truth Social that he did not believe Hartzler “has what it takes” to earn his endorsement.

“She called me this morning asking for my endorsement, much as she has on many other occasions,” Trump wrote. “I was anything but positive in that I don’t think she has 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.”

Later that night, during an interview on the pro-Trump OAN TV network that was conducted two days earlier, Trump was urged by ​​interviewer Chanel Rion to throw his weight behind Greitens because he is only candidate in the primary to openly condemn Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“He’s the one the Democrats legitimately want to run against,” Trump said, before later adding: “Eric is tough and he’s smart. A little controversial, but I’ve endorsed controversial people before. So we’ll see what happens.”

In response to Trump’s public statements, a spokesman for Hartzler’s campaign released a statement saying the “endorsement that counts is the endorsement of the Missouri people who know I am one of them and have been fighting for them.”

Polls throughout the campaign have shown Greitens, Hartzler and Attorney General Eric Schmitt tightly grouped at the top of the crowded Republican field seeking to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.

Voters head to the polls Aug. 2, and an endorsement from the former president — who twice won Missouri by double digits and is still popular among the party’s base — is widely considered a potential silver bullet in the race that would automatically launch whoever received it to frontrunner status.

And while every candidate in the primary has courted Trump, none have gone further than Greitens, who has largely adopted the former president’s grievances into a campaign mantra of stoking lies about a stolen election, downplaying the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and vowing to oppose McConnell as the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate.

But as Trump noted in his TV interview, Greitens is also seen by many Republicans as the weakest possible general election candidate.

Greitens was forced to resign from the governor’s office in 2018 to avoid being impeached by the Republican supermajority that dominates the legislature and to settle a felony charge related to accusations that he stole from a veterans charity.

He was also accused under oath of violent sexual misconduct by a woman with whom he had an affair.

More recently, his ex-wife filed an affidavit this year saying he physically abused her and his children and became so unstable in the months leading up to his resignation in 2018 that his access to firearms had to be limited.

Greitens has denied all wrongdoing and blamed his misfortune on RINOs and the liberal media.

Friday isn’t the first time Trump hinted at a potential endorsement in Missouri.

In March, he issued a statement asking whether Missouri Republican primary voters had given “the big, loud, and proud personality of Congressman Billy Long” proper consideration.

Long, another candidate for the GOP nomination, was an early endorser of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Trump called Long “a warrior.”

“This is not an Endorsement, but I’m just askin’?” the March statement concluded.

This story has been updated to clarify that Trump’s OAN interview was taped on Tuesday, July 5, and aired Friday, July 8.

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.