On several occasions during my lifetime, I’ve found myself thinking maybe there should be a law against political campaign consultants and other “handlers” telling their candidates what to do. Why? Because, sometimes, they give bad advice. One of those occasions happened early on a Friday afternoon almost two weeks ago following a speaking engagement I had in the St. Louis area.
I was the keynote speaker for a Republican crowd of around 50 gathered for their lunch-hour meeting at a local Golden Corral Restaurant. Another speaker penciled in to speak for a few minutes was John Brunner, a Republican businessman from St. Louis who’s running for U.S. Senate against U.S. Rep. Todd Akin and former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman.
I had the chance to chat with Brunner before the meeting started, and I felt as if we hit if off. Both of us had served as officers in the military and both had an interest in fine literature (i.e., he told me he had purchased a copy of my book, Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice, via Amazon.com).
The meeting began shortly after noon and Brunner spoke first, killing about 10 minutes and sounding like everything one might want in a candidate.
Not only did he tell the crowd about his experience as an officer in the Marine Corps and as a successful business owner, but he told them he wasn’t seeking to make a career out of politics. He said, instead, that his goal was to try to fix things in Washington so that his grandchildren would have a better future — and then he’d return home to Missouri.
Brunner was well-received. So much so, in fact, that he received an on-the-spot donation of a $100 bill from one man in the audience who said he appreciated the fact that Brunner had used the word, republic, to describe the United States.
I spoke next, but did not receive $100 from that man, despite using the much-appreciated word to open my 40-minute talk about my book. Oh well.
The meeting ended, chit chat followed, and I approached Katie McBreen, a 27-year-old member of Brunner’s two-person entourage, about doing a quick interview with Brunner outside as he left. A few minutes later, we were walking toward the exit door of the all-you-can-eat restaurant. Once outside, I told Brunner I would only need him for a couple of minutes.
Looking for a good backdrop, I asked Brunner to stand with his back to a solid brick wall and began what I thought would be no more than a two-question interview. Sadly, things didn’t work out that way.
I had barely gotten a question out of my mouth when another Brunner assistant, Anthony Kuenzel, interrupted the interview, saying that the candidate couldn’t do an interview without the approval of Todd Abrajano, the campaign’s communications director.
Despite my disbelief, which I shared with Brunner and his crew, they would not budge, and we parted ways.
Less than 30 minutes later, I received the obligatory apologetic phone call from McBreen. A short time later, an email came from Abrajano. In it, he said he would be happy to work with me, but “it is probably best if we can give you time for more than just a brief question and we can do it in a place where we don’t have to deal with outdoor background noise. You could always come by our campaign office in Maryland Heights. Let me know.”
I replied moments later. Among other things, I wrote, “Don’t send him out without someone who can make assessments on the spot. Better yet, John should be able to decide who gets an interview and who doesn’t. Micro-managed politicians are part of the problem. Don’t let John become part of the problem.”*
Make no mistake about it, I haven’t given up on Brunner — or any other GOP candidate in the race for that matter. I do, however, think he needs to take a crash course in how to handle his handlers.
My hope is that he’ll make a conscious decision to not let his staffers run his show during the remaining months of his campaign and if/when he gets to our nation’s capitol. Then, and only then, will he have a chance at earning my vote.
*CORRECTION 2/9/12: After the fact, I learned that I have to eat a bit of “crow.” Todd Abrajano pointed out to me that he did send me an email and did copy John Brunner on the email. I missed it among the hundreds that I received every day. My mistake, yes, but it doesn’t discount the fact that the situation was handled poorly. That said, I still haven’t given up on Brunner.