In a fawning statement, Mr. McConnell called Mr. Blunt a “policy heavyweight” who had helped bring home legislative victories for Republicans and the Senate as a whole. Among Mr. Blunt’s proudest were billions of dollars in new funding he helped secure as an appropriator for medical research, including for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and mental health. He was also a savvy political tactician who was talked about both as a possible successor to Mr. McConnell and as a sought-after negotiating partner for Democrats.
“While we come from different parts of the country and different political parties, Senator Blunt has been a strong and trusted partner in doing the people’s business,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said in an usually complimentary statement from a member of the opposite party.
Those qualities, once prized in government, have slowly become political liabilities among Republican primary voters whose loyalty to Mr. Trump and distrust of official Washington have reshaped the party. Mr. Blunt had not formally drawn a primary challenger, but his close alliance with Mr. McConnell, who has openly sought to purge Mr. Trump from the party, and his status as a consummate Washington insider put him at risk.
Eric Greitens, a Republican who resigned as Missouri’s governor in a cloud of scandal in 2018, said last week that he was “evaluating” whether to challenge Mr. Blunt in a primary. Mr. Greitens, a decorated member of the Navy SEALs, has sought to position himself as an heir to Mr. Trump and accused Mr. Blunt of inadequately backing him.
“It’s not enough to have an ‘R’ behind their name. We have to have people who are willing to take on the establishment to actually fight against the swamp,” Mr. Greitens told a St. Louis radio station. He attacked Mr. Blunt for “siding with Mitch McConnell,” for criticizing Mr. Trump’s conduct around the assault on the Capitol and for attending Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
But Mr. Blunt had only occasionally criticized Mr. Trump during his four years in office, careful not to anger the former president who helped him secure a narrow victory in 2016.
The Capitol riot proved a more difficult path to walk. Afterward, Mr. Blunt broke with most of Missouri’s Republican delegation and voted to confirm Mr. Biden’s election victory after the attack. He called Mr. Trump’s actions “clearly reckless” and said Jan. 6 had been “a sad and terrible day in the history of the country.” But he vocally opposed Mr. Trump’s impeachment and voted to acquit the former president for a second time.