Fredo Corleone: I'm your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over!Michael Corleone: That's the way Pop wanted it. Fredo Corleone: It ain't the way I wanted it! I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody says... like dumb... I'm smart and I want respect!
—The Godfather: Part II
I'm sure John Brunner never saw himself as Fredo Corleone.
A Burning Question
Did you ever ask yourself why John Brunner would release a surreptitious recording of a phone call with an opponent? Especially one that lacks a smoking gun that would seriously wound the opponent?
Think about it: by releasing that tape to the media, John Brunner told the world, “I cannot be trusted.” He showed himself as the sort of cowardly, weak politician who tries to bait his opponents into secret traps. And he comes off as foolish enough, inept enough, to think people will forget that he uses Nixonian tactics.
"Is this being recorded?" will cross the minds of every person who talks to John Brunner for the rest of his life.
It Doesn’t Add Up
I ask again, why would Brunner willingly destroy his own reputation? It doesn't make sense.
Mr. Brunner successfully operated his company’s business for years. He should know that executives—or executive candidates—don’t secretly record private conversations to gain a tactical advantage. Legal or not, releasing a secretly recorded phone conversation without the other party's consent is sleazy, and no one seriously disputes that.
According to mafia legend, if you kill a don, you can’t become a don. Brunner’s complicity in the secret recording and leak means his political career peaked the day he announced his candidacy for governor. The man who tried to lecture a decorated Navy SEAL on manhood did so while violating the first rule of manliness.
As Jane Dueker said on the Reardon Round Table November 27:
That was weaselly. Your taping conversations—and I don’t believe the story that he felt threatened . . . no, no, no, no, I don’t like that. And just man-up. You did a weaselly thing, you need to own up to it.
With all that downside and no upside, why would Brunner release the recording?
Who Released the Tape?
We learned from his 2012 race for US Senate that Brunner is easily manipulated by Republican consultants. Those of us who wanted to support Brunner in 2012 for his ideological consistency had to walk away because of his weakness in debates and his failure to be his own man. Brunner ran as a caricature painted by John Hancock.
So someone must have convinced Brunner to record his calls with Eric Greitens. Or someone released the recording behind Bruner's back.
I know, I know, “But, Bill, if John Brunner knew it was wrong, he shouldn’t have done it.” I get it, and I agree. But Brunner, as I say, is easily manipulated. And ambitious. He wants to win an election, and he trusts the people he’s hired to make that happen.
And trusting Republican players is the dumbest thing a person can do. It’s like when Fredo trusted Hyman Roth in The Godfather: Part II.
So I realize that Brunner knowingly and with malice recorded a private conversation with Eric Greitens. I am less sure that Brunner was involved in the recording’s release.
Brunner had everything to lose by that recording going public. He lost his reputation, his credibility, and trustworthiness. Why would Brunner out himself as a rat?
I'm not going to speculate here about who did it, but I will explore why.
Eric Greitens Is a Threat to the Establishment
Republican insiders agree that Eric Greitens is the biggest threat to Chris Koster in the GOP field.
The same Republican insiders agree that Eric Greitens is the biggest threat to the Republican establishment. And we know from our Center for Self-Governance training that the purpose of political parties is to maintain their power. Everything else is ancillary.
Party insiders will go to extraordinary lengths when their power comes under attack. As Richard Nixon demonstrated, no law or ethic will stand in the way of a political animal who feels threatened or cornered.
And Eric Greitens presents both parties with a huge threat to their power.
Some will say, “but Bill, John Brunner is an outsider, too.” True. He is. But Brunner has shown himself to turn to putty in the hands of establishment seducers. Plus, the insiders believe Koster would wipe the floor with Brunner in the general election.
Because he’s easily manipulated and because he’s a poor candidate, Republican insiders do not see Brunner as a serious threat. By the same token, because he’s not easily manipulated and because he could beat Chris Koster, Eric Greitens is a huge threat the GOP establishment.
The GOP’s Hyman Roth
When Hyman Roth wanted to consolidate his power by taking down the Corleone family, he manipulated Michael Corleone’s brother Fredo. Fredo set up Michael.
When the Missouri GOP establishment wanted to eliminate a potential threat to its power, one of its agents manipulated John Brunner to set up Eric Greitens. At least that’s what I’m thinking.
It's a plot so diabolical and underhanded that the schemers deserve a certain amount of respect. Until you see the plot play out.
What’s most brilliant about the plot is that Brunner is spending his own money to try to whack Greitens politically, not realizing that the GOP’s Hyman Roth is using Brunner's money to pay the contract on Brunner. As the establishment sees it, with Greitens and Brunner out of the way, either Kinder or Hanaway is a shoe-in for the nomination. And if one of those two loses to Koster? Well, as one Republican insider told me a couple years ago, “we can work with Koster.”
Politics Is More Corrupt Than It Knows
No one involved in this scheme would consider himself corrupt. The political elites want us to believe that bribery is the only form of political corruption. Anything short of bribery, to the political animal, is just hardball politics.
To you and me, corruption is broader. What’s more corrupt than manipulating a man like John Brunner?
Corrupting the morals of a man like Brunner—or turning Fredo Corleone against his brother—is corruption. And it’s a more serious corruption than mere bribery. The establishment has corrupted John Brunner’s soul and wrecked his good name. And ended his political career.
And the establishment is proud of its wicked work. Or it would be if the scheme had worked.
No Smoking Gun
For the GOP scheme to succeed, it needed a knock-out blow. But Eric Greitens gave them nothing. As I said on KMOX, Brunner’s secret recording was not Greitens’s fines moment, but for a man whose life is a long string of fine moments, this was nothing.
The bold scheme to take out Brunner and Greitens took out only Brunner, the dupe. Greitens was wounded but only slightly. When you take a shot at a Navy SEAL, you better kill him. The GOP's bullet missed its mark.
Now, the GOP finds itself in an uncomfortable place. Its stooge has lost all credibility. Eric Greitens learned a hard lesson that will make him only tougher and more determined to pitch corrupt lobbyists and politicians down the steps of the capitol.
Greitens Is the Only Innocent
The GOP's Hyman Roth wanted to help one of two established politicians in the race. Unless one of those candidates admits complicity, it will be hard to trust them. Though I don’t believe Brunner would voluntarily act as a foil to Greitens, by agreeing to secretly record a call, Brunner’s credibility is shot.
For voters who want an outsider with integrity, one who played no role in this episode of ugly election manipulation, Greitens is the only trustworthy Republican still standing.
So, nice try, establishment.
The Burning Question
Now that we have a plausible explanation for why John Brunner was manipulated to secretly record a private call with his opponent, one open question is: who dunnit?
Who told Brunner to make the recording? And who released it to the press?
When we know the answer to that question, we’ll know which remaining Republican gubernatorial candidate absolutely cannot be trusted. For the record, I think the story that Brunner felt threatened by Greitens is pure BS. And if Brunner is that easily intimidated, he shouldn't be running for office.
The one man who can answer is the candidate whose reputation just got flushed down the toilet. Ironic, isn’t? Whoever turned Brunner into a rat put themselves in Brunner's crosshairs. And John Brunner has nothing to lose by outing his corrupter.
Fredo tried to regain Michael's favor by outing Hyman Roth. It didn't work for Fredo, of course, but Fredo had to try.
At some point, Brunner will realize his best hope for redemption begins with exposing the person or persons who corrupted him.
So the burning question is: will John Brunner sing?