Eric Greitens says his RINO hunt announcement was done with humor. How will voters see it? : NPR

Missouri US Senate candidate Eric Greitens said his recent controversial ad was meant to be “humorous”. This decision could backfire if voters fail to live up to the glorification of violence.


US Senate hopeful Eric Greitens sparked a firestorm this week with an online ad encouraging people to get out and hunt so-called RINOs. It’s an acronym for Republicans in name only. It’s a phrase some people use for Republicans they think aren’t conservative enough.


ERIC GREITENS: Get a RINO hunting license. There’s no bagging limit, no labeling limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.


CHANG: There was condemnation, yes, but there was also the attention the former Missouri governor needs to stand out in a crowded primary. This is Jason Rosenbaum from St. Louis Public Radio.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: Eric Greitens got exactly what he wanted. His U.S. Senate campaign released a web ad on Monday featuring the former governor storming a house with a large gun alongside people dressed as armed military personnel. Greitens’ announcement struck a chord. Facebook took down the video, and Republicans and Democrats slammed the ad as a cheap publicity stunt that appears to condone violence over political disagreements.

But on Tuesday, Greitens bragged about widespread publicity attention with KCMO Talk Radio’s Pete Mundo.


GREITENS: As we speak, less than 24 hours after its release, we now know it’s had at least 3.5 million views.

ROSENBAUM: Greitens is trying to tap into a populist, nationalist edge among Republican primary voters. And Austin Petersen, a conservative talk show host who is neutral in the 21-person GOP primary, says Greitens is masterful at garnering attention through traditional and social media channels. Petersen would know. He ran for the US Senate in 2018, but was unsuccessful.

AUSTIN PETERSEN: That’s why Eric Greitens wins. Because he is winning the information war. He knows what he’s doing. You know, he comes out, controversial or not. If you remember, I was the one who gave away an AR-15 in my run. It was the best thing that ever happened. Haters be damned.

ROSENBAUM: Greitens isn’t just dealing with controversy over viral web videos. He made dozens of bipartisan enemies before and after his resignation as governor over scandals involving an extramarital affair and campaign finance controversies. And Greitens’ ex-wife has sworn that he abused her and their son – allegations he denies. GOP opponents of Greitens, such as Congressman Billy Long, say the announcement is in bad taste.

BILLY LONG: If you want to beat the RINOs, you beat them at the polls. I mean, to say you’re going to hunt RINOs is beyond pale, in my opinion.

ROSENBAUM: Some of Greitens’ critics, including incumbent U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, have suggested people should stop talking about the video because it gives Greitens the attention he needs to win an Aug. 2 primary. Democrat Lucas Kunce disagrees with this strategy.

LUCAS KUNCE: We’re pursuing Eric Greitens and reminding everyone, and if you don’t talk about the seriousness of the situation, you’re literally giving him a pass. It’s like, oh, okay, well, let me get the next one out.

ROSENBAUM: Anita Manion, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis, says ignoring Greitens’ web ad would obscure the grim realities of the state of American politics. This is especially the case when a school shooting in Texas is always on the mind and Democratic and Republican political figures are threatened.

ANITA MANION: And while I understand the feeling of not wanting to draw more attention to violent or inappropriate content, I think we need to talk about it.

ROSENBAUM: Greitens’ campaign strongly challenges the idea that web advertising condones violence, saying in a statement, in quotes, “If someone doesn’t understand the metaphor, they are either lying or being stupid.” And with Greitens leading in many public opinion polls, it’s unclear whether the furor over the web publicity will gain ground for his opponents or cement his place as a frontrunner.

For NPR News, I’m Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis.

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