Gov. Eric Greitens of Missouri, a rising GOP star, has just gotten his first serious dose of national public attention in the form of a tawdry sex scandal -- one that could derail the political hopes of a man who, until now, was considered a likely contender for the White House.
The scandalous details include an allegation that Greitens photographed a woman nude, blindfolded and tied up, and threatened to release the photos if she revealed or admitted the affair.
Those details come from the mistress's ex-husband who, apparently unhappy about being cuckolded, reportedly once boasted he "could destroy (Greitens') career in half an hour," and now seems to be attempting to do just that.
Up to now, the unfortunate governor led a charmed political life. Greitens, a Rhodes Scholar and former Navy SEAL, is a decorated war veteran who ran a community nonprofit and authored two books.
Democrats and Republicans both recruited him as a possible candidate, and in 2015, after years as a registered Democrat, Greitens switched parties to make a successful run for governor. Prominent among Greitens' campaign positions was a vow to clean up Missouri politics by reducing the influence of money in the state capital.
He's accrued a mixed record. Despite a pledge to limit the power of donors, Greitens himself has raised vast amounts of outside money that can't easily be traced, and even blocked efforts to disclose who paid for his inauguration.
In a move that initially excited conservative Republicans nationwide, Greitens appeared to secure one of his key campaign promises: passage of a law making Missouri a right-to-work state with reduced power for labor unions. But the speed with which the governor rushed the legislation left a legal opening for unions to make implementation of the law subject to a public referendum later this year -- a knock-down battle that he might not win.
All the while, Greitens has been actively building buzz for a leap to the national stage. As long ago as 2009, he reserved the web address EricGreitensForPresident.com, and recently made a trip to Iowa -- site of the first presidential caucus -- to deliver speeches and meet with party activists.
That was, politically speaking, a lifetime ago. Google "Gov. Greitens" now, and what spills forth are news reports about his extramarital affair and an alleged threat to blackmail his former mistress.
He can now expect Democratic opponents to join his name with that of failed Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore or the former Speaker of the Kentucky House Jeff Hoover, who recently resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.
After years of carefully planning a path to presidential politics, Greitens now must explain why his admitted infidelity is different from other high-profile cases. And as political consultants often point out: if you're explaining, it means you're losing.
Of course, there's a chance that Greitens can survive the immediate scandal. His wife, Sheena, is so far standing by the governor, and in a Facebook post said, "We have a loving marriage and an awesome family; anything beyond that is between us and God. I want the media and those who wish to peddle gossip to stay away from me and my children." And if you look at previous outcomes for governors, the path doesn't always lead straight from alleged affairs to political oblivion; Bill Clinton still became the President, and Mark Sanford, after resigning as governor, got elected to Congress.
But in an age when the public seems fed up with sexual misconduct in Hollywood, Wall Street, Washington and the news media and elsewhere, Greitens now risks being swept up in a national movement to purge and punish those who abuse power and disrespect women.
National Republicans -- already grappling with the difficulties presented by the lingering public allegations of sexual misconduct by President Trump in his pre-political days -- can ill afford to promote a candidate carrying anything resembling the same kind of baggage.
How Greitens handles the first serious setback on his possible road to the White House will determine whether he can succeed amid an emerging new standard for how we expect our leaders to behave.
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