From the first time I met him, Eric Greitens struck me as an odd fit for statewide elected office.
He seemed too intense and too confrontational to succeed in a process that requires compromise, comradery and a willingness to respect others with opposing perspectives.
Instead, despite his military background, I found him to be the opposite of what I’ve read makes for a successful military commander — flexibility and the ability to alter tactics to adjust to battlefield realities.
It was military theorist Carl von Clausewitz to whom the term “fog” is attributed to describe the uncertainties military commanders face in war. Some have traced the concept of flexibility in battle back to Alexander the Great.
But in approaching this new battlefield of the governmental arena, Greitens did not adjust nor, it seems, listen to others.
Instead, without any experience in statehouse government or politics, he launched repeated attacks against the insiders. His frequent blanket condemnations against those in Missouri’s statehouse as being corrupt politicians cost him dearly.
It left him with few real friends in the Legislature. More importantly, he did not develop a network of close, experienced mentors who could teach him the realities of this new battlefield.
That’s partially why few legislators rallied to his support when the sex-scandal allegations emerged. Yet, to his last days as governor, Greitens never adjusted his tactics of attack. His failure to adjust his tactics to battlefield realities were displayed in his first weeks as governor.
In violation of the Senate code of dress, he went to the Senate in what became his governmental uniform of jeans and an open-collared shirt without a tie.
It disturbed the Senate’s top leader Ron Richard, who is fanatical about Senate traditions, including the Senate’s dress code of a coat and tie for men. Even worse, in a private meeting in Richard’s office with a few senators, he went on the attack.
“I can see by your pupils in your beady little eyes that you’re afraid of me,” Greitens was quoted as telling Sen. Paul Wieland. That’s not the approach that wins legislative allies. It doesn’t build a network of those eager to help the governor learn the tactics by which he could have been successful. Instead of a frontal assault to win at all costs for the most immediate battlefield objective, I’ve found negotiation and compromise to be the tactics most successful for long-term success.
Sometimes, winning a battle is not worth the cost of the bitterness that can develop among opponents whose support will be needed for other issues. Compounding Greitens’ problems was an obvious discomfort in dealing with people.
He rarely was seen in the hallways outside the legislative chambers. In a way, he was like his predecessor Jay Nixon governing from his private office one floor below the legislative chambers and traveling the state.
That is not a successful tactic in a process where developing friendships, cajoling and getting blunt advice is essential.
Maybe if he had made a greater effort to develop a network of experienced statehouse mentors who could offer seasoned advice, he might have avoided some of his missteps that plagued his administration.
There was another aspect besides his failure to adjust tactics.
The hubris of his sexual affair and flaunting of campaign finance rules suggest that Eric Greitens did not believe he had to follow the rules. Missouri has a long history of political careers destroyed by sexual arrogance.
Does Greitens’ disregard of campaign finance laws for which he was forced to resign leave another warning to those in office? Does it send a chill to other officials who are at the receiving end of secret, special-interest “dark money?”
Or, do the vast amounts of secret funds Greitens was able to amass provide an example of how special interests in the future can avoid financial disclosure laws to dump their money into future generations of politicians.
But, on the other side, will the Greitens’ scandal cause Missouri’s new governor and legislators to seek stronger laws requiring financial disclosure and restricting conflicts of interest with deep-pocket special interests?
Those are some of the possible legacies of the brief Eric Greitens administration.
Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps.