Former President Donald Trump announced Monday that he would endorse Eric Greitens in Missouri's U.S. Senate primary. Trump had not yet decided which candidate to back when he published those words, according to interviews with numerous officials familiar with the chaos that ensued. The episode reveals a former president surrounded by advisers and hangers-on who often have dueling loyalties between him and other candidates they work for, while also illustrating Trump’s uncertainty when faced with a decision that risks showing him as backing a losing cause. By the time the Missouri Senate primary race was called Tuesday night, Trump could perhaps make a claim of partial victory — but only after causing 36 hours of Republican chaos, along with widespread jeering from Democrats.
Several Trump advisers ultimately praised the “ERIC” endorsements as a lighthearted troll of anyone who had expected a more serious result. But for many of the people involved in the infighting, the battle over Trump’s decision was anything but fun and showed weakness and uncertainty. “Bananas,” was the description of one operative involved. Republicans in Missouri read the non-endorsement as a likely wash, denying Greitens the boost he could have received had Trump settled on a last name as well. ‘It was undoubtedly the most Trump-ian move possible,’ said Andy Surabian, a former White House official who works with Donald Trump Jr. “It was a laugh-out-loud funny troll on the media,
Trump's Monday afternoon at Bedminster, N.J., was “insane even by the usual standards,” in the words of one longtime adviser. Key figures included senators, donors, top operatives and the leader of the Republican Party. Some of the advisers argued that Greitens was likely to lose the seat if he became the nominee, and then Trump would be blamed for Republicans losing the Senate. Trump had information on his desk that was positive about Schmitt, including a range of nice things Schmitt had said about him, and polling that showed Schmitt was going to win, people with knowledge of the matter said. By afternoon, Trump called Hawley, according to people familiar with the call, who described a poll that showed Greiten behind.
By Sunday night, it appeared Greitens was making headway again. Trump circulated a Breitbart news article suggesting a poll paid for by Schmitt was unfairly undercounting Trump’s support in a hypothetical 2024 Republican presidential primary in the state. By the following morning, a prominent donor warned that an endorsement was on the table. Trump decided he did not have to decide between the two men.