There's seldom a single or clear explanation for any suicide, and there are still many questions about why each man killed himself—especially Jackson, 44, whose death is still so recent. (Investigators found a note, but they haven't revealed its contents.) But the conversation since Schweich's death has focused on two major issues: an alleged whisper campaign claiming that Schweich was Jewish, and a generally poisonous political environment.
What Do We Know About Schweich's Death?
Schweich, a married father of two, was reelected as auditor in November, and he already had his eye on a higher office—governor of Missouri. In fact, he felt he'd earned the right to run unopposed for the job, according to the Kansas City Star, having paid political dues for years. That's not how the race was shaping up. Former state house Speaker Catherine Hanaway decided to run and lined up a $1 million donor. In addition, a Hanaway ally and former aide, John Hancock, was elected chair of the state Republican Party.
Schweich came to believe there was a whisper campaign suggesting he was Jewish, apparently in attempt to hurt his chances with conservative Christian donors. (Schweich's grandfather was Jewish, but he was an Episcopalian.) He believed Hancock was behind the rumors and planned a press conference to condemn them, but when he called Danforth—whom he'd served as chief of staff—the former senator talked him out of it, saying it'd make the story about Schweich rather than any slur. Schweich was convinced, but then changed his mind and opted to hold a press conference. Danforth again counseled him not to do so. Shortly thereafter, Schweich killed himself.
Meanwhile, a radio ad backing Hanaway featured a Frank Underwood imitator mocking Schweich as a Barney Fife lookalike and a "little bug."
Was there ever a real whisper campaign? The Daily Beast reports that Schweich's friends and advisers weren't convinced. The Star quotes friends who felt Schweich was "high-strung" and struggled to handle criticism. Even Danforth, in his eulogy, called him “a person easily hurt and quickly offended.” All that said, Hancock has said since Schweich's death that while he had on occasion told people Schweich was Jewish, it was not intended as a slur and that he honestly believed it was true.
A Culture of Bullying?
All of that has led a group of powerful voices in Missouri to blame Schweich's death on bullying and to worry about broader cultural concerns. In his eulogy, the widely respected Danforth blasted "bullies" for contributing to the suicide. He also endorsed the idea that anti-Semitism was a factor.
“Tom called this anti-Semitism, and of course it was. The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry,” he said. While Danforth didn't name names, he did mention the radio ad and has widely been interpreted as condemning Hancock. Meanwhile, several Republican leaders have called on Hancock to step down, while others have demurred on taking a stance. Hancock has mostly stayed out of the spotlight, and Hanaway has suspended her campaign.