It marked the end of a chaotic seven hours in the Trump world, as the former president’s future daughter-in-law, his hand-picked chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, the junior senator from Missouri and a host of other party officials and Trump allies jostled over who the former president was was expected to agree in the tumultuous Missouri Senate primary, where polling stations were due to open less than 24 hours later.
Trump kicked off the private lobbying tour late Monday morning when he posted on social media that he would make his approval official that day – without mentioning that he had apparently not yet made his final decision. What transpired during the afternoon illustrates the anarchic nature of Trump’s approval process. While the coveted endorsement is one of Trump’s greatest assets and his primary political weapon, the way he decides who gets one is often improvised rather than scripted.
In this case, many Republican officials feared that the wrong decision could have serious consequences for the party. The former governor resigned from his post in 2018 after his hairdresser accused him of sexually assaulting her. And his ex-wife has accused him in court of assaulting her and their young son in 2018. Greitens has strenuously denied the allegations, but his standing in the Missouri GOP Senate primary has slipped amid a spate of ads focused on those allegations.
Monday’s episode focused on Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.’s fiancé, who spent the weekend campaigning for Greitens while attending a golf tournament Trump was playing in, according to several people familiar with the events hosted at his club in Bedminster, NJ.
Just after noon, Trump had a previously scheduled meeting with RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel at which the Missouri race became a topic of discussion. During the session, Trump called Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a Greitens foe, who referred to a recent poll showing the former governor is falling behind in the primary.
After being told Guilfoyle was on Bedminster’s property, Trump asked to invite her to the meeting.
When Guilfoyle entered the room, Hawley was off the line. McDaniel, who, like other senior Republicans, tried to dissuade Trump from supporting Greitens over fears that he might lose the general election seat to a Democrat and that his nomination would force Republicans to spend money in a state that supports the Party should be sure remained in session. She also argued that a late confirmation would do little to change the race, as most polls show Greits lagging behind in third place, and that it would make more sense for Trump to remain neutral.
Guilfoyle has been staunch in her defense of the former governor, saying the party establishment tried to get Trump to oppose Greitens. McDaniel, meanwhile, reiterated her argument that given his personal baggage, Greitens would be a weak candidate.
As the meeting progressed, say those familiar with what was happening, Trump began to lose patience. At one point it was suggested that he might endorse “Eric” and that in doing so he would endorse both Schmitt and Greitens.
It was a crazy ride. But Trump went into the details, asking if the two candidates’ first names were spelled identically – noting that it wouldn’t work if they weren’t. While Trump was intrigued, he also noted that it might be too cute. He asked for draft endorsements for review, one announcing his support for Schmitt, the other for Greitens.
At this point, it was still unclear who Trump would back by his self-imposed deadline at the end of the day, underscoring the rolling, unpredictable nature of the former president’s way of wielding his power. As with other races, Trump asked a number of figures for their views on Monday. The list included Republican pollsters John McLaughlin and Robert Cahaly, both of whom have conducted polls on the race. He received notes from Tony Fabrizio, a longtime Trump researcher who worked for Greitens.
Trump later asked allies Pam Bondi and Matthew Whitaker, both of whom support Schmitt, for their opinion. At another point, he questioned Chris Cox, founder of the Bikers for Trump coalition, who was also on the Bedminster property. Cox excused himself from the office so he could get an idea of those in his organization. When he re-entered the office, he informed Trump that his crowd was geared towards Greitens.
But Trump returned to the idea of backing the two Erics, arguing that both had pros and cons and that it gave everyone a chance to win with their backing. He drafted a statement to be released soon.
“I trust the Great People of Missouri to make up their own minds on this,” it says, “as they did when they gave me landslide victories in the 2016 and 2020 elections, and I am therefore proud to announce that ERIC has my full and unreserved approval!”
The announcement capped a dramatic nearly year-long struggle for Trump’s support. While party leaders warned Trump not to support Greitens, some of the most prominent members of the MAGA movement – including Guilfoyle, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn – backed him. Greitens has become a regular guest on War Room, former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon’s popular podcast.
People familiar with Trump’s thinking say concerns about Greit’s past controversies weighed on his decision not to fully endorse Greit. At one point Monday, they said, Trump hinted that Greitens could run in the general election against Trudy Busch Valentine, a wealthy Democratic nominee. Busch is heir to the Anheuser-Busch brewing fortune.
“They are not the weak Bush family,” Trump said, citing his long-standing feud with members of the Bush political dynasty. “She is the strong Busch family.”