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Eric Greitens ‘RINO hunting’ ad draws national attention and condemnation

The above screenshot is an image from former Gov. Eric Greitens' "RINO hunting" web ad that was posted on June, 20, 2022. The ad received widespread attention for Greitens' U.S. Senate campaign — and also condemnation.
Eric Greitens' YouTube page
A screenshot from former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens "RINO hunting" video ad posted online Monday as part of his campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Updated on 7:30 p.m. on Monday with more reaction from Greitens' U.S. Senate rivals

U.S. Senate hopeful Eric Greitens ignited a firestorm on Monday with a web ad that encourages people to hunt Republicans who are insufficiently conservative, sparking a wave of condemnation of the former Missouri governor.

Greitens is locked in a highly competitive Republican primary against five other major candidates. Since returning to the political fray after he resigned from office in 2018, Greitens has sought to emphasize his adherence to populist and nationalist tendencies of the Republican Party — including announcing he wouldn’t vote for Sen. Mitch McConnell as majority leader if he’s elected.

The web ad in question continues on that theme but in a much more visually visceral manner. Holding a shotgun, Greitens is shown walking down a sidewalk proclaiming that he and other people in military uniforms were going “RINO hunting.” RINO is an acronym for “Republican in name only,” and is often used in primaries against candidates whom opponents want to label not conservative enough.

As he stands at a door with a gun and the soldiers, Greitens whispers: “The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice.” One of the soldiers then uses a battering ram to enter an empty house, while another throws what appears to be a smoke grenade inside.

Once the soldiers enter the house, Greitens stands in front of the camera to say: “Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit. No tagging limit. And it doesn’t expire — until we save our country.”

Soon after it was posted on social media, Greitens’ ad was condemned on a number of fronts.

Many said the ad was condoning violence over political disagreements.

Democrat Lucas Kunce said Greitens "belongs in prison, not in the Senate," while fellow Democratic contender Trudy Busch Valentine called the ad"despicable." One of Greitens' primary opponents, Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, said in a statement that the ad was “completely irresponsible.”

Facebook pulledthe ad for violating prohibitions against incitement and violence. Twitter chose to keep the ad up but included a disclaimer stating: “this Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about abusive behavior. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”

"That’s why I’m running. It’s time to restore sanity and reject this nonsense,” Schatz said. “Missouri deserves better.”

In response to a question about whether the ad amounts to inciting violence, Greitens’ campaign said in a statement, “If anyone doesn’t get the metaphor, they are either lying or dumb.”

Others noted that Greitens is a flawed messenger to accuse Republicans of being RINOs, since he was a Democrat until the mid-2010s and explored a run for Congress as a Democrat in the early part of that decade. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler said in a statement, “The only RINO featured in Eric Greitens’ web video is himself.”

While he was running for governor as a Republican in 2016, Greitens said on St. Louis Public Radio’sPolitically Speaking that he was “born and raised a Democrat” — adding that he learned in third grade that “Harry Truman was the greatest person to ever walk the face of the Earth.”

“I’m a Republican and a conservative not by birth, but by conviction,” Greitens said in 2016.

Other observers noted that stoking outrage and attention was the point of the ad. Greitens' campaign said the video received “one million views on Twitter alone in the first two hours of posting.” That may be way a spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schmitt responded to the ad with an emoji of a face rolling its eyes.

And Greitens’ Twitter account thanked the Washington Post for including the video on its website, adding that “everybody can visit the link below to see our new ad!”

“He put out the video to raise money when hateful people see it,” said Spencer Toder, one of three major Democratic candidates running for the Senate.

Greitens has consistently led in public polling since entering the U.S. Senate race. Some Missouri Republicans have argued that he would be a weak general election candidate, pointing to controversies over an extramarital affair and campaign finance issues that consumed his short tenure in office. He is also facing accusations from his ex-wife that he was abusive to her and their son, which Greitens has denied.

Others, though, have argued that the angst over Greitens isn’t about his general election viability — but because he’s made many enemies during his time in Missouri politics.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.