During the last election, Missouri enjoyed the distinction of being the only state in which a putative one-time Democrat running as a Republican managed to beat a one-time Republican candidate running as a putative Democrat. The Republican in the race, Eric Greitens, claims to have been a Democrat once upon a time but experienced a conversion in which he was born again as a Republican, conveniently enabling him to ride Donald Trump’s racist, white-nationalist, faux-populist coattails into office.
Now that we’ve had a few months to observe Eric Greitens in action – at least when we can get a fix on the media-shy politician – it looks like Missouri will be serving as the training ground for our own little Trump. Apart from the fact Rhodes scholar Greitens is a much smarter guy – intelligence being a quality for which Trump substituted inherited wealth – he has lots of political chops in common with the Trumpster:
— Both Trump and Greitens used celebrity to manipulate perceptions:
Trump is the only big-time, national celebrity of the two, but he managed to parlay a mediocre to failed business career, characterized by bankruptcy and dishonest dealings with his associates, into a reality television franchise where he more or less comically projected the persona of an authoritative, knowledgable deal-maker. He was subsequently able to exploit that perception to shift attention away from his lack of real qualifications.
Similarly, Greitens marketed himself endlessly as an heroic ex-SEAL and advocate for veterans. He exploited popular preconceptions about military prowess and heroic altruism to shift attention away from his lack of government experience – to the extent that he occasioned pushback from other SEALs who resented his exploitation of his service for his own benefit.
— Both Trump and Greitens view politics as a branding exercise where winning is the only important measure of success :
While preparing for his presidential bid, Trump staffers listened to “thousands of hours” of right-wing radio to learn just what got the Republican masses juices flowing. They learned that, in the words of GOP strategist Sam Numbert, “the GOP base was frothing over a handful of issues including immigration, Obamacare, and Common Core.” Consequently, during the campaign, Trump, always the marketeer, played on the emotions that these issues evoked by conjuring images that were almost cartoon-like in their brutal simplicity, while assiduously avoiding substantive policy proposals.
Greitens seems to have widely shopped himself around Missouri political circles before he decided which political party could deliver for him – the rationale he offered for his shift in political affiliation in a FoxNews.com editorial, a pretty-sounding exercise in conservative cliches and right wing buzzwords with a profession of populist concern for the “little guy,” delivers neither evidence of soul-searching nor real argument to explain why he thinks that Republican policies will serve that “little guy.” In the campaign he carefully avoided substantive issues, opting instead for gimmicks like the ad in which he displayed images of himself shooting very big guns – prompting the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board to remark that he “treats depth and substance like Kryptonite.”
— Both are swamp bloomers:
Trump appealed to the “little guy” by promising to drain the Wasington D.C. “swamp.” Yet he is one of the brightest of the swamp flowers himself. Trump’s known personal conflicts of interest are almost too numerous to mention – Jeremy Venook catalogs at least 37 financial conflicts that are arguably actionable – and, of course, since Trump refuses to release his tax returns, we have no reliable way to determine the actual extent of his corruption. This pattern in reflected in his appointees – HHS secretary Tom Price, for instance, who, while in Congress, seems to have legislated in a way that enhanced his personal finances. Many of the rest are deeply aligned with fossil fuel or Wall-Street interests, whose druthers seem to have been moved rapidly to the front burner of the new administration.
Greitens, for his part, promised to aim his big guns on the culture of corruption in Jefferson City, and, although he took a couple of baby steps, he largely seems to have put that concern aside. He issued an order that forbade executive branch employees from taking gifts from lobbyists and that prohibited former executive branch staff from lobbying their old agencies during his tenure, but he did nothing, as is popularly supposed, to halt or slow down the haste with which former government employees move into lucrative lobbyist positions. And that’s all that he’s done to date. Finito.
As for addressing a campaign funding system that is as close to open bribery as it’s possible to be without openly acknowledging that government is for sale, Greitens is MIA. His own gubernatorial campaign was financed by a huge infusion of “dark money,” as well as humongous donations from reliable conservative money spigots like the Humphrey family, folks who were clearly in the market for a governor who in return for the financial considerations would be willing to do them a few solids, like lowering their taxes and giving unions a bare-knuckled work-over.
Most recently Greitens set up a PAC – a kitty for his future political ventures – whose donors can legally hide their identify -. His dark money cache as well his enthusiasm for gifts from undisclosed donors, such as those who paid for his fancy inauguration festivities and his plane flights around Missouri and to Washington D.C., have signaled to that anything goes to state legislators who “wonder why it’s corrupt for a legislator to accept a meal or concert ticket from a lobbyist, but perfectly fine for the governor to accept things like trips on private planes paid for by anonymous donations routed through a nonprofit.”
—Both Trump and Greitens bloom in the dark:
Trump’s aversion to news media and the exposure it brings is well-known and troubling for many reasons. It is commonly supposed that as a nearly pathological liar, he finds operating out in the open in an environment in which his casual pronouncements can come back to haunt him to be inconvenient.
Similarly, the Post-Dispatch observes that, “for now, Greitens’ media ground game is more akin to President Donald Trump’s than his own GOP allies in the Capitol.” Apropos of which a veteran radio reporter remarked that ” a cloak of secrecy has descended upon Missouri government to a degree I never imagined in all my decades covering the statehouse.”
Both men have instead resorted to social media to try to set their preferred narrative; Trump, notoriously, on Twitter, while Greitens drops carefully selected bits and pieces onto his Facebook page. The strategy makes it much easier to avoid embarrassing questions and avoid contrary facts, while keeping the PR pots boiling. And while keeping most of the people in the dark about what is really going on.
Big Mouth Trump and Big Guns Greitens are out for themselves. Trump’s now got his, which means, sadly, that we the people will likely get the shaft. Greitens, though, is still in the early stages of his ascent – but there’s no doubt he’s aiming high. And given what we’ve seen so far, it’s likely that if he manages to achieve his goals, the result for the rest of us will likely be the same or worse.