COLUMBIA, Mo. – Monday, Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Webber posted on social media about a campaign event Gov. Eric Greitens attended in 2008. The event? A campaign meet-and-greet in Columbia to elect Stephen Webber to the Missouri House of Representatives, where Webber ended up serving for eight years.
In the post, Webber called Greitens a former friend who now favored expediting his political career instead of his values.
“The Eric Greitens that came to my 2008 campaign kickoff would be disgusted by today’s Eric,” Webber wrote. “Greitens is no outsider, he’s the fakest human being I’ve ever known.”
Greitens’ previous political affiliation as a Democrat is well known. He travelled to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver to hear then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s address to accept the nomination for president. He had even approached the Missouri Democratic Party to run for office as a Democrat.
However, the extent of his support for Democratic candidates and ideals did not receive quite the same attention in the run up to the race. Webber spoke with The Missouri Times Tuesday to expand on his Facebook and Twitter posts. He said he felt obligated to speak out against Greitens remaining silent when governors from the 50 states met with President Donald Trump yesterday, and Trump criticized America’s apparent inability to win wars.
“We never win, and we don’t fight to win,” Trump said. “We’ve either got to win, or don’t fight it at all.”
Webber, himself a veteran, saw that as a slight against veterans and wondered why Greitens, who rose to political prominence on his history as a Navy SEAL, did not denounce Trump’s language.
“Donald Trump’s got a history of insulting our troops – this has become a pattern for him,” Webber said. “But if he is going to sit there and dismiss our efforts right in front of Eric, I think Eric’s got a responsibility as a veteran to – at some point – say something. I’m not saying he had to get up and walk out of the meeting, but he’s had a lot of opportunities since then, and as far as I know, he hasn’t said a word.
“That’s really disappointing,” Webber added. “He’s putting his political ambitions and his desire to suck up to Trump and Pence and forget what his veteran friends did, and I just find that abhorrent.”
What cuts a bit deeper for Webber relates back to the Facebook post, which featured a picture of Greitens at Webber’s 2008 campaign event. Greitens did not just happen upon the event, he went to support Webber because the two were friends.
After Webber returned from Iraq in the spring of 2007, he worked for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in Washington D.C. that summer. Greitens was also in D.C. around that time beginning to build his charity The Mission Continues, formerly known as the Center for Citizen Leadership. Webber says the two would get dinner at restaurants together, though they would not go to bars since Greitens did not drink. They would occasionally talk politics, and Webber described him as a progressive who definitively supported Obama’s presidential bid, but he added, “I don’t want to put words in his mouth” on any specific issues.
So, it surprised Webber when Greitens suddenly became a Republican when he sought political office.
“This is a guy that had a Ph. D. from Oxford and had been to war and was a grown adult,” Webber said. “He had done all of these life experiences and decided he had a progressive view of the world, and then in a couple of years, with no significant events happening, he decided he’s suddenly this ultra-conservative guy.”
Webber said he spoke out on the subject during the gubernatorial campaign, but that he was more focused on his own ultimately unsuccessful state Senate race against then-Rep. Caleb Rowden.
Greitens himself outlined what pushed him towards his newfound conservative ideology in a 2015 Fox News editorial.
“I had concluded that liberals aren’t just wrong. All too often they are world-class hypocrites,” Greitens wrote. “They talk a great game about helping the most vulnerable, with ideas that feel good and fashionable. The problem is their ideas don’t work, and often hurt the exact people they claim to help.”
Austin Chambers, senior advisor to Gov. Eric Greitens, essentially said Webber’s recent diatribe was a result of sour grapes.
“I don’t pay any attention to what a desperate and failed politician like Stephen Webber says, and neither do Missourians,” Chambers said. “Greitens won. Webber lost. Clearly, Webber can’t get over that fact. Governor Greitens is a conservative outsider who’s taking Missouri in a new direction with more jobs, higher pay, safer streets, and better schools.”
Todd Graves, the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, said he did not want to get into a “tit-for-tat” with his fellow chairman because neither of them wielded any true political power, but he did criticize Webber’s use of social media.
“I will say I think Mr. Webber’s increasingly shrill tone of his social media postings smack of desperation,” Graves said of the posting.
While part of Webber’s job is to promote and lead the Democratic party, which includes needling Republicans, he emphazied the transition Greitens made in his departure from the political left to the right. Webber noted former Attorney General Chris Koster changed political parties from a Republican to a Democrat, but he had not switched his ideals or even most of his political positions, serving as one of the most conservative Democrats in Missouri politics.
The change in Greitens’ tune from when Webber personally knew the governor-to-be signaled nothing more than a desire for political expediency, Webber said.
“Eric Greitens jettisoned any values that he has in order to promote his own ambitions,” Webber said. “At this point, it’s pretty clear the only thing Eric Greitens cares about is Eric Greitens and the promotion of Eric Greitens.”