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Eric Greitens, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri, is facing bipartisan criticism after airing a campaign ad that promoted “RINO (Republicans In Name Only) hunting.” Many Republicans and Democrats alike have called out the video, saying it promotes political violence. Social media companies reacted quickly, with Facebook removing it while Twitter prohibited users from sharing it, prompting some conservatives to accuse these platforms of political censorship. The controversy has reignited questions about Greitens’ candidacy, including if he could cost Republicans an anticipated safe-red Senate seat.
Controversy. In the political ad, Greitens urges his supporters to get a “RINO Permit” and “join the MAGA crew.” The video shows Greitens breaking into a home while holding a shotgun alongside men in camouflage uniforms. Opponents of the ad say it promotes political violence during a heightened focus on the issue amid a string of mass shootings and threats to government officials. This incident is not the first time critics have accused Greitens of promoting violence. During his run for Missouri governor in 2016, he released a campaign video in which he was using an automatic machine gun.
Social Media Takedowns. On Monday, Facebook removed the video from its platform, saying the post violated its “policies prohibiting violence and incitement.” Meanwhile, Twitter said the ad violates its rules about abusive behavior but left it up because it was in the “public’s interest” to view it. Twitter added a warning label to the post and prevented users from sharing it.
Encouraging Violence? Democrats responded with concerns about sparking violence. Representative Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) tweeted, “This type of fa[s]cist messaging needs to stop. It only encourages political violence.” Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) called the ad “sociopathic,” saying it was “going to get someone killed.”
Conservative Backlash. While Greitens has dismissed his Republican critics as RINOs, most of the Right has turned against him. GOP Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, who are running against Greitens in the primary, released a joint statement condemning the ad. The Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, which has endorsed Greitens’ primary opponent Eric Schmitt, said that Greitens “does not possess sound judgment.” Lastly, state GOP Majority Leader Caleb Rowden published a tweet saying, “Anyone with multiple accusations of abuse toward women and children should probably steer clear of this rhetoric.”
Tech Censorship. Greitens complained that social media companies were censoring his ad. He slammed these companies on Twitter, saying, “Big Tech is once again meddling in our elections and putting their thumb on the scale.” Greitens continued, “When I’m U.S. Senator, I will fight against the disgusting tech oligarchs from stealing any more elections.”
A Risky Bet?
Greitens’ Candidacy. When incumbent Missouri Senator Roy Blunt (R) announced he would not seek reelection last March, political analysts widely considered the seat a lock for Republicans. The last Democratic Senator from the state was Claire McCaskill, who lost in 2018 by nearly 6%. Yet many pundits — and even some in the Republican establishment — have suggested that nominating Greitens to replace Blunt could make the race unnecessarily competitive, even in an election year that is shaping up to be a good one for Republicans.
Greitens is considered to have substantial baggage, running for Senate four years after he resigned as Governor amid a potential impeachment inquiry into alleged sexual misconduct and campaign finance violations. In March, his ex-wife claimed he physically abused her and their children.
A Historical Parallel. The current frontrunner’s attempted comeback has reminded some political analysts of one of the most infamous missed pickup opportunities in modern history. In 2012, Senate Democrats faced a tough electoral landscape, defending seats in several states that were trending conservative, including Missouri, where freshman Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill was seeking reelection. According to most polls and pundits, McCaskill faced an uphill battle and was one of the chamber’s “most endangered Democrats.”
Yet her opponent, Representative Todd Akin (R), essentially sank his own campaign just three months before the election, justifying his opposition to all abortions by saying that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy, igniting a political firestorm. The comments upended the race, making abortion one of the top issues and turning many Republican voters against Akin. While Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney beat President Obama by nearly 10%, McCaskill bested Akin by over 15%.
Some question how applicable the historical analogy is in today’s climate. Missouri has shifted further to the Right since the 2012 election, and with increasingly polarized voters, it is unclear if enough Republicans would cross the line to oppose Greitens — should he be the GOP nominee. How the race plays out remains to be seen, but those who expect a rehashing of Akin’s loss could have a surprise in store.
Eric Greitens’ latest campaign ad represents a greater darkness within the Republican Party. Political violence is now mainstream among the GOP, with right-wing candidates actively encouraging attacks on elected officials. As alarming threats against these individuals surge, ads like this further fan those flames. No network, streaming service, or social media platform should host this video or anything like it. Greitens and those that amplified this ad should face punishment for openly advocating for harming those they disagree with politically.
Most Republicans disagree with the content of this ad. While it was unsettling for many, others may have liked the harsh stance Greitens takes against RINOs. The only piece of Republican agreement is that Big Tech should not have censored the ad. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook should not suppress political candidates, it is the job of the voters to oust them instead. If fewer people have access to the advertisement, less people are likely to see it and be dissuaded from voting for Greitens.
Facebook has removed a campaign video by Republican Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Eric Greitens that shows him brandishing a shotgun and declaring that he’s hunting RINOs. Review the past and current controversies of this GOP candidate.
Do you think Greitens will win the primary election?