Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens stirred controversy Monday after releasing a new campaign ad telling supporters to go "RINO hunting."
In the ad Greitens, the Republican former governor who resigned from office in 2018 amid sexual misconduct allegations, announced his Navy SEAL background and cocked a shotgun before declaring, "We're going RINO hunting."
RINO is an acronym that stands for "Republican in name only." It's used by conservatives and GOP activists to deride Republican elected officials they perceive as being too friendly with Democrats or insufficiently conservative.
"The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice," Greitens tells the camera before a Navy SEAL team breaches a house.
Urging his supporters to get a "RINO hunting permit," Greitens says, "there’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country."
"We are sick and tired of the Republicans in Name Only surrendering to Joe Biden & the radical Left," Greitens tweeted. "Order your RINO Hunting Permit today!"
The ad was immediately controversial. Twitter assigned a notice to Greitens' tweet explaining that it violates Twitter Rules about "abusive behavior." But the tweet was not taken down because "Twitter has determined that it may be in the public's interest for the Tweet to remain accessible."
Users can still find and quote the tweet, but commenting, retweeting, and liking have all been disabled to limit the post's reach.
Facebook took more drastic action and removed Greitens' video, according to CNN correspondent Donie O'Sullivan.
"We removed this video for violating our policies prohibiting violence and incitement," a Meta spokesman said. Meta is Facebook's parent company.
The ad prompted visceral reactions from the left on Twitter, which accused Greitens of inciting violence against members of his own party.
"This is sociopathic. You're going to get someone killed," Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) tweeted.
"Radical.. extreme… unhinged… today’s MAGA Republicans are a cancer to American democracy," said DNC chairman Jaime Harrison.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) blamed Republican leaders Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell for enabling "MAGA radicals" to run as Republicans.
"Now it's out of control & threatens everyone's freedom," Swalwell tweeted.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper observed that Greitens' ex-wife has accused him of physically abusing her and their children in legal filings for their ongoing custody battle.
But some conservative commentators were upset with Greitens' ad as well. Many pointed out that the video seemed intentionally designed to provoke outrage, which some cynically suggested Greitens might use to distract from his flaws as a Senate candidate or boost his media attention in the crowded Republican primary.
"A man with a history of domestic violence and abuse is trying to win by trolling his opponents in this way. Wow," said conservative radio host Erick Erickson.
"Reminder: this guy bound & blindfolded his hairdresser and took nude blackmail photos of her without her knowledge," noted "Political Beats" podcast co-host Jeff Blehar, referring to the allegations against Greitens that prompted him to leave office.
"All this? that's to distract you from the fact that this guy bound & blindfolded his hairdresser and took nude blackmail photos of her without her knowledge."
Blehar also pointed out that Greitens was a lifelong Democrat who joined the Republican Party in 2015 when he first ran for office.
Conservative radio host Dana Loesch pointed out Greitens' hypocrisy on guns, calling him out for waving a gun around in his ad after he refused to support so-called "constitutional carry" laws and criticized the Second Amendment Preservation Act — dubbed SAPA — as governor.
Constitutional carry laws permit gun owners to carry their firearms without a license, while SAPA would have invalidated federal firearm restrictions on lawful gun owners.
The controversial ad follows a bipartisan deal in the U.S. Senate on a framework for gun control legislation. Twenty senators — 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats — have agreed in principle on a series of measures including incentives for states to adopt red-flag laws, expanded background checks for gun purchases, and funding for mental health and safety programs.