Dirty Tricks & Political Skunks Emerge Early in Missouri Gubernatorial Campaign

By B.W. Durham

Political skunks have already begun spraying their stench in Missouri’s Republican gubernatorial campaign even though the primary elections won’t occur until August.

Witness the dirty tricks launched against Eric Greitens, the conservative Republican candidate who is a former Navy Seal, Rhodes Scholar and best-selling author.

Soon after Greitens announced his candidacy for Missouri Governor in September, a website that smears Greitens and creates wrong impressions about him materialized.

The Kansas City Star noted, “A former staffer of John Brunner’s campaign for Missouri governor is involved with a new super political action committee that is attempting to undermine the conservative credentials of rival Republican Eric Greitens.”

Candidate Brunner’s former staffer, a political operative named Adam McLain, left Brunner’s payroll only a few weeks before the bogus website emerged. It intentionally misspells Greitens’ name in its title — transposing the “e” and the “I” — ostensibly to attract people who believe they are reading about the real Eric Greitens.

Since its launch, that website has been routinely updated with anti-Greitens attacks, slurs and misleading information. All of it reminds me of Alexander Pope’s line: “It is with narrow-souled people as with narrow-necked bottles; the less they have in it, the more noise they make in pouring it out.”

The former Brunner staffer McLain is treasurer of the political action committee called “Patriots for America” that, in addition to the false and misleading website, launched an anti-Greitens direct mail campaign to discredit him in the eyes of Missouri voters. And the committee, obviously not short of campaign funds, also launched a negative “attack ad” campaign against Greitens.

One marvels that the unfounded, baseless malice against Greitens launched eleven months before Missouri’s general election next November and begs the question: Why is all this occurring so early in the election cycle? Dirty tricks and false attacks usually occur six to eight weeks before the primary. Which begs another question: Why isn’t Brunner the gubernatorial hopeful more concerned about telling us about his own credentials, and why his accomplishments make him better qualified to be governor than Mr. Greitens?

Is it possible that Brunner and other candidates fear Greitens because they are afraid he will win the primary in July and the gubernatorial election in November? Greitens’ education, achievements, reputation and conservative political message are clear, and he has many supporters. And perhaps he is pilloried by the likes of Brunner because his resume is unique and impressive and, unlike some of his competitors and detractors, he has nothing to hide.

After four tours as a Navy Seal tracking down terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan Greitens was awarded nine decorations for his military service, including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for military valor. When he left active duty he served as a White House Fellow, gaining high-level experience in and with the federal government. He also founded The Mission Continues, a nonprofit organization that helps veterans adjust after they return from foreign battlefields by finding purpose in life as community leaders. And Greitens wrote two best-selling books: “The Heart and the Fist” and “Resilience: “Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life.”

He has so far raised more money than other Republican gubernatorial candidates including John Brunner; former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway; and Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder.

Is it possible they all believe Greitens, who is currently Senior Fellow at the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri, will leave them in the dust? In fact, considering some of his accomplishments, he could.

In 2013 Time Magazine named Greitens one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2014 Fortune Magazine named Greitens one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders.

He has been profiled in major media across the nation and internationally. The author and TV news anchor Tom Brokaw endorsed one of his books by saying, “Meet my hero — Eric Greitens. His life and this book remind us that America remains the land of the brave and generous.”

No other Republican candidates for governor can claim such major contributions to his fellow man and his country or such global media exposure. And Greitens is only 41 years old.

Maybe that’s why he is such a popular target for political competitors like John Brunner.

Brunner, a 63-year-old retired corporate CEO from St. Louis, admittedly — and secretly, without telling Greitens — recorded a phone conversation he had with Greitens. Brunner, also without informing Greitens, then edited portions of the audio and leaked it to media. Whatta guy!

In the recording, Greitens was very upset — and he sounded that way — because of the bogus website defamations and, also, because of Brunner’s apparent reluctance to meet with him to discuss it.

“Leaders don’t record private conversations and leak them to the media, sleazy politicians do,” Greitens posted on his own website http://ericgreitens.com. “What’s disgusting about politics is all the so-called ‘leaders’ who hide behind others and refuse to take responsibility for their actions. That’s called cowardice.

“I have repeatedly challenged John Brunner to accept responsibility for these recent attacks, but like a typical politician, he has ducked and dodged. We don’t need more of that in Jefferson City. And that’s exactly why I’m running — to call out and defeat those who would rather play politics than tackle problems.”

Culture of Corruption

“We must end the culture of corruption,” Greitens asserts. “I believe that career politicians have turned Jefferson City into a corrupt, do-nothing embarrassment. I will clean up the mess by banning gifts from lobbyists, closing the revolving door between legislators and lobbyists, and applying term limits to every statewide elected official.”

Brunner, who failed in his campaign for U.S. Senator from Missouri in 2012, has dismissed any connection to the bogus website that smears Greitens, but he has not denied it.

If incidents like this had occurred during President Richard Nixon’s scandalous Watergate era, Brunner’s dismissal would have been called a “non-denial denial.”

“Tricky Dick” Nixon may have set new standards as a dirty dealing politician during the Watergate scandal, but he was not the first. Thomas Jefferson won the presidential election of 1800 largely because his pamphleteer James Callender printed vicious lies about Jefferson’s opponent, the incumbent President John Adams.

Fast-forward 200 years later: Texas Governor George W. Bush and Arizona Senator John McCain were running for the Presidency in 2000 when the Bush campaign launched a “whisper campaign” supported by illustrated pamphlets claiming that McCain’s adopted daughter from Bangladesh was an illegitimate African-American daughter.

An anti-Semitic whisper campaign in 2015 launched against then-Missouri State Auditor Thomas Schweich, who had declared his candidacy for Missouri Governor, purportedly contributed to Schweich’s suicide.

A few days later, Former U.S. Senator John C. Danforth, who is an Episcopal minister, eulogized his friend Schweich, also Episcopalian. Of his friend, Danforth said, “The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry…

“If this is what politics has become, what decent person would want to get into it?” Danforth asked those present at the eulogy.

Danforth added: “’Words do hurt. Words can kill.’” Indeed they can: One month later, Robert Jackson, who had served as Schweich’s media director, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Since then, voters, politicians and media nationwide have been demanding campaign reform against candidate bullying and dirty politics. But Missouri politics shows no signs of getting rid of defamation, lies and dirty tricks.

Eric Greitens must be making a powerful impact in Missouri politics — he has become a target of devious competitors for no apparent reason except that opponents want to demean him. For the decorated war hero, Rhodes Scholar, devoted family man and former White House fellow, it’s likely only the beginning.

And for the record, it is not in Greitens’ nature to back down. In fact, the former Navy Seal commander and current Navy Reserve lieutenant commander is a marathon runner and winner of gold medals in both taekwondo and boxing. He begins every day with a workout.

“I can take a hit,” he says.