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Donald Trump had promised to weigh in on the Missouri GOP primary race for Senate before the election today. The GOP party establishment was hoping he would endorse Eric Schmitt, the Missouri Attorney General, who has been doing well in polls against prospective Democratic candidates. Trump’s daughter-in-law, Kimberly Guilfoyle, however, is a co-chair of the Senate campaign of Eric Greitens, a former Missouri governor who has been accused of a range of ugly crimes, including domestic abuse by his ex-wife. Greitens, polls suggest, would be a much weaker candidate in the general.
And sure enough, yesterday, Trump spoke. He said that there as a “BIG Election in the Great State of Missouri, and we must send a MAGA Champion and True Warrior to the U.S. Senate.” He concluded “I am therefore proud to announce that ERIC has my complete and Total Endorsement!”
The joke (and it’s clear Trump sees it as a joke) is that both candidates, Greitens and Schmitt, are named “Eric.” (So is the lesser-known, but still competing, Eric McElroy.) This was Trump’s way of saying he’s not offering an endorsement.
It’s also his way of making sure the last day of the campaign is all about Trump. Greitens and Schmitt both instantly released statements saying they were “honored” (Greitens) and “grateful” (Schmitt) for receiving Trump’s endorsement, and implied that their opponent wasn’t MAGA enough. (Eric McElroy doesn’t seem to have responded.)
If you squint, you could see Trump’s non-endorsement as a sort-of victory for the Republican establishment. Trump has personal connections to the Greitens campaign thanks to Guilfoyle. He probably finds the candidate’s personal style appealing — Greitens aired an ad in which he filmed himself hunting down moderate Republicans with a gun.
Nonetheless, Trump didn’t wholeheartedly embrace Greitens. That’s probably the kiss of death for the ex-governor, whose elaborate horribleness has been too much for even Republican primary voters. He’s been fading in the polls, and a Trump endorsement was probably his last hope.
The GOP can breath a sigh of relief for now. But Trump’s narcissistic and trolling endorsement is hardly comforting for them in the long or even medium-term. The frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential election is contemptuous of the party he leads. He sees it as his personal fiefdom — and, worse, as his personal plaything. He doesn’t care about advancing Republican ideals or Republican candidates. He issues endorsements because it gets him attention, and because he thinks it’s fun.
The results of his attitude are already weighing heavily on Republican chances for November. Trump likes to endorse personal friends; he likes to endorse celebrities who he’s heard of; he likes to endorse people who abase themselves and offer slavish devotion.
Those preferences led him to boost for Senate television huckster Oz Mehmet in Pennsylvania, former football star Herschel Walker in Georgia, and memoirist and would-be avatar of the white working class J.D. Vance in Ohio. All three are running in fairly conservative states; they should be leading in a midterm election with a Democratic president whose approval is in the 30s. Yet all are struggling, because they are scandal-ridden, incompetent, lazy, or some combination of all of those.
This isn’t the first time Trump’s indifference to his party’s fortunes has harmed GOP chances. Trump has reportedly admitted that he didn’t campaign hard in Georgia in 2020 because he was “angry” about losing the 2020 election — and specifically because he was irate that Georgia Republican governor Brian Kemp didn’t overturn the state’s election results. Trump’s pique ended up contributing to the Republican loss of two Senate seats. It’s why Democrats have controlled the Senate for this term.
Trump’s cute “ERIC” prank shows that he hasn’t changed and doesn’t intend to. He may occasionally make the absolute minimum effort to help the GOP, but he’ll only do it reluctantly and in the most contemptuous way. Republicans — whether named Eric or something else — exist to help Trump, not the other way around.
Trump’s interference may well lose the GOP the Senate this cycle. His interference is likely to be a drag on Congressional races in 2024 as well. And even more apocalyptic scenarios are possible. What if Trump manages to lose the 2024 Republican nomination? Will he just fade quietly and conveniently away? It seems much more likely that he’ll claim that the election was rigged against him and launch a third-party run. If he does, he could easily get 10 to 20 percent of the vote in a three-way race, dooming Republican candidates across the board.
This is where the GOP is. They either back a leader who hates them and casually wrecks the party on a whim. Or they turn against him and watch as he very deliberately tries to blow them up.
Republican distress and disarray would be an amusing spectacle if the rest of us didn’t have to live with the results of the party’s Trumpified cruelty, irresponsibility and fascism. As it is, the best hope for the country right now is that Trump and the GOP destroy each other before they can destroy the rest of us.