Local Columnists

Steve Kraske: John Brunner comes out short after fiery phone exchange with Eric Greitens

St. Louis businessman John Brunner is a Republican candidate for Missouri governor.
St. Louis businessman John Brunner is a Republican candidate for Missouri governor. The Associated Press

John Brunner, you just pulled a Mike Tyson.

Surely you remember the 1997 championship bout between Tyson and Evander Holyfield billed as “The Sound and the Fury.” This was the match where a frustrated Tyson bit off a chunk of Holyfield’s ear during a clinch, then spit it out on the ring floor.

The ref disqualified Tyson and, for a while, Tyson lost his boxing license.

Politicians aren’t licensed, but maybe Brunner should lose his driver’s license for a time in the wake of the below-the-belt stunt his campaign just pulled.

In case you missed it, Brunner surreptitiously recorded a phone conversation between himself and Eric Greitens, a rival Republican candidate for Missouri governor. The exchange took place after a former Brunner campaign operative launched a campaign website that attacks Greitens as “not a conservative. Not then. Not now. Not ever.”

The site, ericgrietens.com, intentionally misspells Greitens’ last name in an attempt to attract Missourians who might be interested in learning more about the author and former Navy SEAL but don’t know how to spell his name.

Greitens apparently was displeased with this development and called Brunner to vent. Greitens didn’t know he was being recorded as he tried to set up a face-to-face meeting.

“Oh, John Brunner, oh my God, you are such a weasel! Are you going to meet tomorrow or not?” Greitens demanded. “I can’t wait to see you in person, John. I want to look in your eyes.”

He wasn’t done. Greitens went on to call Brunner a liar, a coward and another corrupt pol.

Brunner, who of course knew this tape might one day have a public airing, was calm and patient.

“You know what men do, Eric? They don’t call people names,” he said at one point. “They sit down and talk face to face. That’s what men do.”

The Nov. 14 phone call magically made its way to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the GOP race for governor suddenly was in the headlines.

To be sure, Greitens, a political newcomer, hardly comes off like a new-style leader in this exchange, as his campaign is trying to portray him.

But it’s Brunner’s antics here that really give one pause. He has pledged to run a positive campaign and avoid “personal negative attacks.” He has much to offer as a successful St. Louis businessman who has never held public office before. In a year of the outsider, Brunner could fit the mold.

Still, this was blatant deception, an ethically bankrupt tactic. It was an off-record conversation that Brunner transformed into headlines in an attempt to undermine a rival with enormous upside potential. Taping this way, it should be noted, is a practice that some professions bar entirely.

Brunner’s campaign said the recorded conversation with Greitens was the second Brunner had received in the span of a few minutes. In a statement, the Brunner camp said the first call’s “threatening nature” caused Brunner aides to recommend that the second call be taped.

And then it was released to the media with the same amount of consideration that Tyson employed when he chomped down on Holyfield’s ear.

Even though it’s politics, trust matters. Brunner just went a long way toward flushing his.