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Kurt Bardella GOP silence on Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' criminal trial speaks louder than words ever could

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on misbehavior. But at least Democrats seem willing to try to hold their own accountable.
Image: Missouri Gov Greitens
Greitens is the first sitting governor in Missouri to be indicted on a felony charge.Jeff Roberson / AP file
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During the 2016 campaign, Mike Pence endorsed for Missouri governor with an ad expressing "strong personal support" for him. "Eric is a good friend and a true patriot.” Pence went on to call Greitens “a conservative warrior,” assuring Missouri voters that “he’ll make you proud as your next governor.”

Greitens went on to win the election, but the honeymoon period was short-lived. Today, the blue-eyed former Navy SEAL is facing a felony charge for misusing a charity donor list to solicit campaign dollars for his 2016 gubernatorial run. He was also indicted in February on a felony invasion-of-privacy charge for allegedly taking a nude photo of a women without her consent after tying her up in his basement. The governor, who is married with two young children, is also facing disturbing accusations of blackmail, violence and coercing sexual behavior related to the second charge.

During the 2016 campaign, Vice President Mike Pence endorsed Eric Greitens for Missouri governor with an ad expressing, “strong, personal support."

Greitens, who is the first sitting governor in Missouri to be indicted on a felony charge, has forcefully denied the allegations; his trial for the invasion-of-privacy charges begins this week.

While there have been reports that the White House has been following the legal saga, neither the president nor vice president have yet weighed in on whether they think the governor is fit to hold office.

They’re not alone.

Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, the head of the Republican Governors Association, said after Greitens was indicted that resignation was “up to Eric and his family and the people to decide. I don’t think they need us as other governors telling him what he should do.”

I’ll try to remember that sentiment the next time I see an ad from the Republican Governors Association telling me whom to vote for. If you are going to engage in political activity on behalf of candidates, you don’t get to hide behind the “ask them, not me” line. And when you endorse candidates on the basis of their conservative family values, and those candidates are later accused of serious criminal and sexual misconduct, institutional silence speaks volumes.

When you endorse candidates on the basis of their conservative family values, and those candidates are later accused of serious sexual misconduct, institutional silence speaks volumes.

And this is institutional silence. Compare the Republican (non)reaction to Greitens with the way three recent controversies surrounding prominent Democrats were handled.

A few hours after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced in the press, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a rising star within the Democratic Party, resigned. Even before he quit, Gov, Andrew Cuomo, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and the National Organization for Women wasted no time in calling for Schneiderman’s head.

Former Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who was generating a lot of 2020 buzz, resigned at the end of last year in the face of sexual harassment allegations — and calls from his colleagues, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to step down.

Former Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, who was the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, resigned last December after both Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called on him to step down amid similar allegations of sexual misconduct.

For Schneiderman, Franken and Conyers — all Democrats — credible and serious allegations translated to swift and public condemnation from the political leadership of both parties. This definitive and effective criticism forced their respective hands.

And yet in the case of Greitens — a man who, at bare minimum, is guilty of marital infidelity and could soon be found guilty of a whole lot worse — national Republicans, with a very few exceptions, have been effectively mute.

I think the people of Missouri have a right to know if Pence still stands by his endorsement of their governor. Does he still enjoy the vice president’s “strong personal support”? The Republican Governors Association spent more than $13.5 million on the effort to elect Greitens. Now that Greitens is on trial, they are M.I.A.

Certainly, neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on corruption and misbehavior. But at the very least, Democrats have shown they are willing to own up to their mistakes.

Endorsements are about trust. Trust that your word is impactful enough to help convince voters to support you. The vice president of the United States told the citizens of Missouri that Eric Greitens was a “pro-family” leader. In doing so, he was asking these people to trust both his and his chosen candidate’s moral compass. By not speaking out now, Pence’s own reputation and credibility should be thrown into question.

Because elections are about choices and those choices have consequences. Sometimes, both voters and politicians make bad choices based on incorrect or incomplete information. Certainly, neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on corruption and misbehavior. But at the very least, Democrats have shown they are willing to own up to their mistakes and hold those accused of misconduct in their own ranks accountable. Amid the left’s embrace of women’s empowerment and the #MeToo movement, anything less would be hypocritical. Too bad Republicans are so unwilling to do the same.

Kurt Bardella is an NBC News Think contributor. He is a former spokesman for the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., as well as for former Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and former Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif. Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella.

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