“Join the MAGA crew,” Greitens says in the ad. “Get a RINO-hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”
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Ads in which conservative or right-wing Republicans excoriate their opponents as insufficiently partisan are not new, of course. The idea that “RINOs” should be removed from office is a long-standing one, particularly in the Donald Trump era when traditional Republican politicians have often found themselves targeted by Trump’s more extreme supporters. Such ads hope to capture anger at perceived political weakness by the insufficiently partisan to demonstrate a candidate’s strength.
Usually, though, those ads are explicit that their targeting is only conceptual. Greitens’s ad ignores any such caveats. In fact, it goes further, combining the increased Republican fetishization of firearms in campaign spots with the idea that some Republican legislators should be taken out. It intentionally blurs the dual meaning of that expression: “taken out” of office — or “taken out” in the Mafia-movie sense.
In the abstract, it’s just tone-deaf tough-guy shtick, conflating physical toughness with political toughness. But Greitens’s background is salient here. He has been accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife, and he left office as governor following revelations of an affair that included allegations of abuse. He is a person trained to use violence who has been accused of using violence and is now suggesting that violence be used against people who fail to adhere to his right-wing worldview.
The timing of the Greitens ad is particularly striking, given news reports that emerged this weekend about a threat to Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). Kinzinger has become a prominent target of the right, particularly Trump supporters, after he both voted to impeach Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot and because he serves on the House select committee investigating that attack.
Kinzinger posted the message he received on social media. It includes a threat against him, his wife and his infant son.
“How worried are you about your personal safety?” Kinzinger was asked by ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. Kinzinger replied that his concern was more for his family than himself. This echoes the sentiment expressed by Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) when he announced his decision not to seek reelection last year. Gonzalez, who also voted to impeach Trump, realized the scale of the threat he faced when he was met by security at an Ohio airport.
“That’s one of those moments where you say, ‘Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, to have my wife and kids escorted through the airport?’” Gonzalez explained to the New York Times.
“There is violence in the future, I’m going to tell you,” Kinzinger told Stephanopoulos at another point in his interview on Sunday. “And until we get a grip on telling people the truth, we can’t expect any differently.”
Greitens has been one of those who is not interested in telling people the truth on the specific issue being investigated by the House committee. He has amplified false claims about the security of the 2020 election and has downplayed the scale of the violence that unfolded at the Capitol on Jan. 6. That he is doing so as he seeks the endorsement of the Republican Party in Missouri is exactly the point: He is betting that there’s more electoral reward in being the anti-establishment, anti-reality tough guy than articulating any nuanced view of Republican politics.
The result is an ad in which Greitens encourages people not to vote other Republicans out of office or even to vote for him instead. It’s an ad in which he explicitly says that Republicans like Kinzinger should be hunted with guns. Usually, guns are a metaphor that serves as subtext to calls for voting a certain way. In this ad, the voting is at most subtext — if it can be extracted from Greitens’s message at all. Greitens is pledging to fight everyone to the left of Donald Trump in as literal and as forceful a way as can be imagined.
In April, he welcomed Donald Trump Jr. to Missouri for a day of shooting. He posted video of the fun, saying that it would strike “fear into the hearts of liberals, RINOs, and the fake media” — all perceived enemies who deserved to worry about gun violence.
The message, once again, was unsubtle.