Eric Greitens, the Republican who was elected Governor of Missouri on Tuesday, could be one example of the kind of non-traditional and fairly non-ideological candidate voters are apparently now looking for. Soon to be the first Jewish governor in Missouri’s history, Greitens is a Republican with little in the way of a fixed set of political views, and one of three former Navy SEALs to be elected to a major office this week. A non-politician who defeated an establishment democrat moderate enough to have earned the NRA’s endorsement, Greitens made his peace with what politics required in the Year of Trump, and struck a balancing act that he rode all the way to the Missouri governor’s’ mansion.
In some respects, Greitens is a refreshing counterpoint to some of Tuesday’s Trump-driven discouragement, someone who Americans can be proud to see in elected office. He’s a Rhodes Scholar and Bronze Star recipient with a decorated record of national service and civic engagement. Greitens is the founder of The Mission Continues, a widely respected organization that connects veterans to community service opportunities, partly to provide them with an ongoing source of purpose and motivation as they return to civilian life. The governor-elect is a subtle and original thinker as well. His 2015 book Resilience is structured as a letter to a fellow Navy SEAL struggling with his transition out of the military, and incorporates hundreds of literary, artistic, and philosophical references to trauma and warfare spanning nearly the full breadth of human civilization. As a Free Beacon profile noted, the principals of “The Great Jewish Hope” are “rooted in Seneca and Cato, rather than Buckley or Von Mises.”
But Greitens hasn’t been immune from the less savory aspects of Trump-era American politics. He positioned himself as a “conservative outsider,” repudiating a raft of previous liberal positions and masking the fact that he had been a democrat just a few years earlier—commonalities he shares with president-elect Donald Trump. In August, Greitens infamously aired a commercial in which he did little more than load and fire a machine gun, a blunt and—one would think, unnecessary—pitch coming from someone who had served four tours of duty in Iraq.
On November 7, Trump himself offered his endorsement of Greitens on Twitter. Greitens thanked Trump for his backing, and declared that his democratic opponent, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, was a “crooked career politician just like Hillary Clinton.” The embrace of Trump, who Greitens stuck with even through some of the ugliest controversies of the election, was a politically prudent decision, given that the New York businessman ended up winning Missouri by 19 percentage points. But such a trade-off seems all the more glaring and unseemly in light of the rest of Greitens’ background.
Even so, Greitens now ranks as one of the most intriguing elected officials in the nation—an author, scholar, SEAL, and advocate for veterans who successfully coped with the year’s rising political force, however ugly the results could sometimes be. And he’s only 42. It’s not out of the question that Greitens could eventually add “first Jewish president” to an already impressive resume, especially given the success of a certain other ideologically flexible political newcomer.