ST. LOUIS, Missouri — Former U.S. Senator Jack Danforth is one of the most accomplished politicians in modern Missouri history. At 85, the multi-millionaire's resume includes stints as the state's Attorney General, an ambassador to the United Nations, an author of three books, and board seats on political and religious organizations, not to mention his involvement in his private law firm.
"I’d like to be just a retiree," Danforth said during an interview at his law offices in Clayton. "I have spent so much of my life in it. When you just see it turn to junk or worse, something that has become awful, I can’t do nothing. So I have to. I just have to do this. I can’t just concede that the current state of politics is okay without pushing back against it."
In the upcoming election to replace Missouri's outgoing senior Senator Roy Blunt, Danforth is forming a new political action committee and urging voters in the Show Me State to carve out a new and difficult path to Washington, D.C. through a third party candidate.
Watch the full interview here.
Danforth kickstarted the Missouri Stands United PAC with a $5 million check, and plans to raise $20 million to steer voters away from any of the major party candidates and toward John Wood's nascent candidacy.
Why would a man with little left to prove make such a costly longshot gamble?
"Both parties have gone extreme," Danforth said. "And I think we have to face up to it and provide an alternative to it."
Danforth, who represented Missouri in the world's most deliberative body for nearly two decades, is hardly impressed with the roster of candidates currently running for the open seat in 2022.
"People would rather go to the polls and vote for 'none of the above,'" he said.
Eric Schmitt, Missouri's Attorney General, is one of the contenders running in the Republican primary. Recent polling showed Schmitt inching out to a narrow lead over former Governor Eric Greitens and U.S. Rep. Vicki Hartzler.
Lucas Kunce, Trudy Busch Valentine, and Spencer Toder are angling for the Democratic party's nomination.
On Wednesday, Danforth questioned if Schmitt is truly engaged in the job he has, or if he's merely using it as a stepping stone to seek higher office.
"I see him involved in a lot of very high profile things that don't pertain to the job of the Attorney General," Danforth said, such as suing China and taking local school districts to court to challenge their coronavirus safety protocols.
Does he think Schmitt is grandstanding?
"Well, I would say so. Yeah," he replied. "I just wonder if he's doing the job that he was elected to do."
Danforth's review of Eric Greitens' "RINO hunting" ad wasn't any better.
"This is beyond crazy," he said. "Killing people. He's talking about killing people. If you're in the Senate, your job is to legislate. It isn't to throw bombs."
Danforth made no mention of Hartzler, but again expressed his regret for his past support for Senator Josh Hawley, and again rebuked the junior senator for objecting to the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
"He’s wrong," Danforth said, adding that he felt Hawley's public statements casting doubt on the election results led directly to the violent attack on the Capitol.
Does Danforth want to see the Department of Justice prosecute former president Donald Trump?
"Maybe it's called for in this case," he said after cautioning against one party coming to power and prosecuting its predecessors. "I do think January 6 was a very, very terrible day in American history."
John Wood, an attorney who served on the January 6 Select Committee and questioned witnesses, says he entering the race to win it all, not merely to play spoiler. Wood is running as an independent.
Danforth brushed off concerns that a third-party candidate like Wood as a potential spoiler who might make it easier for a Democrat to win that Senate seat.
"Joe Biden is so underwater and the Democratic agenda is so unpopular," he said. "So I would say to Republicans who feel that way, 'I don't see it.'"
"He is definitely ready for primetime," Danforth said after hearing Wood deliver a speech on Tuesday night at a private event. "And he is by far the most qualified candidate, just credentials and brains and ability."
As Danforth turns on his own party and makes the case for the country to pull back from the brink of divisive politics, how would he view his own actions to defend Clarence Thomas and help secure his confirmation to the Supreme Court after Thomas wrote the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade?
Danforth, an ordained Episcopal minister, says he always disagreed with the Supreme Court's decision on Roe v. Wade, but felt it was one thing to grant a right and entirely another to take it away. He said Thomas' decision to take that precedent away and create a new "live issue" now drives the nation further into division.
"I hope that we're not just refighting one cultural battle after another after another," he said. "I don't think that's good for the country."