The sleaziest political campaign ads typically come from a candidate’s opponent or an aligned Super PAC. Such ads usually walk a thin tightrope of truth in order to make their target seem less palatable to voters. In contrast, most ads where the candidate appears show them doing mundane tasks, talking about their work or walking somewhere with their family, to underline their supposed relatability.
Apparently, Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens and his campaign team thought that was too boring. So they released a ridiculous and grotesque ad instead, with Greitens toting a shotgun and following a team of heavily armed law enforcement officers into an anonymous home. The purpose? “RINO hunting.”
Before they bust into the house, Greitens says, “I’m Eric Greitens, Navy SEAL, and today we’re going RINO hunting.” Then he adds, quietly, as if sneaking up on animal: “The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice.”
After the team busts into the house (and fails to clear other rooms or floors), Greitens walks in through a cloud of smoke and says, “Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”
RINO is an acronym for “Republican In Name Only.” It previously represented a pejorative meant for Republicans who weren’t bedrock conservatives 100 percent of the time and might take more liberal viewpoints, especially on social issues. However, in the last several years, it became a phrase reserved for Republicans who didn’t bend the knee for Donald Trump.
It isn’t easy to fathom why anyone would greenlight such an ad, especially in today’s political climate. But Greitens’ campaign doesn’t care. Campaign manager Dylan Johnson said, “If anyone doesn’t get the metaphor, they are either lying or dumb.” No, we get it. We understand the ad is not literal, and Greitens is not advocating anyone go out and shoot people. However, that doesn’t make it any less irresponsible or reckless, and if Johnson doesn’t get that, he’s either lying or dumb.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger received a death threat recently that targeted not only him but also his wife and infant child. And why? Because he voted to impeach Trump and sits on the January 6th committee. And yes, he had the RINO label slapped on him as well.
It is easy for anyone to condemn the threat of a criminal who took the time to handwrite a letter and mail it to Kinzinger. What will take a little more political courage is for Republicans to stand up and tell Greitens, “That ad is not welcome in the Republican Party.”
Republicans found it easy to speak of moral clarity when authorities arrested a man and charged him with the attempted murder of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The suspect, who cited the leaked draft opinion about Roe v. Wade and the possible loosening of gun restrictions, turned himself in before anything happened. However, many prominent Republicans lambasted the attack and questioned why President Biden and other Democrats did not loudly and forcefully condemn what happened.
But Republicans are out of their minds if they think they get to claim the mantle of moral superiority, should they remain silent about Greitens’ ad. It is not an issue about “both sides.” It comes down to doing the right thing and saying to people who have a warped sense of what it means to be tough and patriotic that such rhetoric, no matter how symbolic it is, is wrong and doesn’t belong in the political realm.
In the olden days, when Bob Dole ran for president in 1988, he lost his temper during an interview with Tom Brokaw in which he said he wanted George HW Bush to “stop lying about my record.” Bush had accused Dole of “straddling” on taxes. Political campaigns have a rough-and-tumble edge, and hitting below the belt is often rewarded.
But that is a far cry from the spectacle of “hunting” other Republicans and “bagging” them to “save the country.” Republicans can do what they often do and pretend they have no idea what’s happening (“I haven’t seen the ad, so I cannot comment”) if they want. But the right thing to do is to take the risk that some knuckleheads will yell at them on Facebook and Twitter and condemn it by saying loud and clear, “This is not the way for a candidate for the US Senate to conduct himself.”
Republicans can prove it’s not something they tolerate or prove they are accountable to a small contingent of angry, petulant primary voters whose only motivation for their politics rests on the shoulders of the former president. I hope they’ll take the opportunity.