Donald Trump still has the power to make Republicans fight each other for his approval, and he’s enjoying it immensely.
The former president “thought it was a thing of beauty and too goddamn funny” to endorse “Eric” in the Missouri primary and then to watch two MAGA candidates — both named “Eric” — scramble to claim his favor, according to a person familiar with the ex-president’s thoughts.
On Monday, Trump wrote in a statement that “ERIC” has his “complete and total endorsement” in the Missouri’s Republican primary for Senate. He did not specify whether the nod was meant for Eric Greitens, the state’s scandal-ridden former governor, or Eric Schmitt, the state’s attorney general. It was an absurd end to a race that has largely been characterized by both candidates doing their best to grovel for the former president’s affection. The days-long prelude to Trump’s “ERIC” declaration was marked by ferocious, dueling efforts waged by prominent supporters of both Erics (including Donald Trump Jr. girlfriend and former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, on the side of Greitens) to get in the ex-president’s ear and convince him to finally, formally back one of the two men.
Neither candidate got Trump’s full backing, but they both did their best to lay claim to the quasi-endorsement. Shortly before Trump released his statement on Monday evening, the Greitens campaign had actually gotten a heads-up that they were getting the sort-of endorsement — even if it was this late in the game. The lead-time was minuscule, according to a person with knowledge of the matter and another source briefed on it, but Greitens’ team made the most of it.
Roughly two minutes before Trump’s office blasted out the “endorsement,” Team Greitens received a phone call informing them that the former president’s statement would not include a last name. “It didn’t matter, the campaign made the quick decision that they’d just go with it,” the second source says. The campaign had already been prewriting material — social media posts, written statements, fundraising emails, the works — to send out in the event that a Trump endorsement would materialize Monday night. They simply decided to use it all anyway, and just waited, glued to their inboxes and Twitter timelines, looking out for the “endorsement” to become public. The idea, internally viewed as tactically savvy, was to launch Team Greitens’ online blitz, pivoting off of the then-incoming Trump statement, as quickly as they could, hoping they could beat Team Schmitt to the punch of claiming it as belonging to their particular “ERIC.” The minutes-long scramble within Greitens 2022 so closely resembled a scene pulled out of political satire that the source briefed on the matter simply remarked to Rolling Stone, “It was exactly like Veep except [a storyline] like this might’ve been rejected by the Veep writers for being unrealistic.”
In the end, the Greitens campaign’s plan worked, insofar as something like this can even “work.” By 6:39 p.m. ET on Monday, Greitens had tweeted, “I’m honored to receive President Trump’s endorsement…Trump said it best when he characterized Schmitt’s campaign as ‘great dishonesty in politics.'” By 6:50, the other Eric had apparently caught up, posting to Twitter, “ENDORSEMENT—PRESIDENT TRUMP…I’ll take that fight to the Senate to SAVE AMERICA!”
Both in public and in private, Greitens was more than happy to willfully ignore the fact that Trump hadn’t actually chosen him. Indeed, top advisers to both “ERIC” campaigns also saw the absurdity and perverse humor in each candidate taking that approach so enthusiastically. And yet, everyone of course went with it, because … what else could they do in Trump’s party?”
“I just had a GREAT phone call with President Trump, I thanked him for his support! Together we will MAGA,” Greitens tweeted just under an hour after his initial tweet. During that conversation, according to the source with knowledge of the matter, Greitens told Trump: “Thank you, Mr. President for your endorsement of me and my campaign. We’ll make sure everyone knows you endorsed the MAGA candidate.” In return, former President Trump thanked Greitens, and wished his “fighter” good luck in the Tuesday primary, one that has been defined by a Trumpist squabble for his affections that he, after all, found so “goddamn funny.”