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20 for 20, Part 3: Casting call: Missouri politics is pro wrestling and needs a new top heel

Yesterday, in Part 2, we covered two explicit ways to profit from journalism and campaign trends. Today, we’ll focus on the theater and casting of Missouri’s battle royals.

9. Most everything in Missouri politics can be explained through a pro wrestling lens. There’s kayfabe — the official, suspend-your-disbelief storyline you see on your TV (2001) or your smartphone screen (2021) also known as a “work” — and there’s the “shoot,” the real-life workings acknowledged only behind closed doors, away from the public, backstage.

I’m 43 as of this writing and follow pro wrestling and Missouri politics with nearly the same fervor I did as a teenage boy. Paradoxically, I enjoy both more today because I accept and embrace how much I’m being worked.

John Combest

Do you think St. Louis County Executive Sam Page (D) and Missouri AG Eric Schmitt (R) don’t know that they both benefit by stretching out their no-holds-barred match, with no final pinfall or submission, another 10 months — until each wins their respective August 2 primary? If so, leave the Capitol rotunda immediately and get back to your fourth-grade school bus.

(Note to friends who work for Eric and Sam:  I know, I know. The mask mandate battle is very serious and is ACKSHUALLY about liberty and freedom and Busch beer and pork steaks and safety and of course the kids. ALWAYS the kids. Carry on.)

The pro wrestling lens also explains our personal hypocrisy on activism. Hulk Hogan utilized virtually the same moveset during his time as a bad guy (early 1980s), then as a good guy (mid-1980s), then as a bad guy again (1996-2002). He used eye pokes, back rakes, closed fists — all illegal in kayfabe. We rightfully booed him for these dastardly deeds when he was a bad guy — but rationalized it in the mid-‘80s when he was flying the American flag. “He’s just giving them a taste of their own medicine!” we’d tell ourselves.

I cheered good-guy “American Made” Hulk Hogan and booed bad-guy “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan. Today, my good guys are protesting; your side is rioting. My ideological allies are patriots; yours are hoodlums. Spending taxpayer money for my pet projects is an investment in the future of Missouri; spending for your favored projects is merely handouts. See how easy it is?

10. Actionable item: Acknowledge that getting donor, activist, and voter attention is all a “work” (a performance) and utilize the best time-honored bits from pro wrestling.

Democrats and progressive groups:  Like it or not, Missouri is a heel territory. Which means the bad guys (Republicans and conservative groups) hold the gold. You are the babyfaces (good guys), bravely challenging the powers that be and usually coming up just short. This submissive posture has its natural benefits — there’s always rampant corruption to expose, cataclysmic legislation to block, shady government e-mails to Sunshine. You can raise money off all three.

Use what you have naturally going for you — your stakeholder base and even the “movable middle” of voters are inclined to believe that you care more than the heels do about doing the fair and compassionate thing. Too many of you try to gin up impotent superminority swagger and end up cutting promos that sound like Jumpin’ Jeff Farmer.

Don’t forget that you have the kayfabe referees and commentators (corporate newspapers and progressive content creators) on your side, which is key to swaying some portion of the viewing audience through your language. To wit: the heels (conservatives) are not keeping high school boys from competing against girls in sports, they are forbidding students “from participating on the sports teams that match their gender identity.”

Republicans and conservative groups: Being a heel means never having to say you’re sorry. The referees will never give you a fair shake anyway, so why bother playing by their rules? Deep down, they prefer working in a heel territory because their work is more interesting when they’re criticizing the opposition. Imagine if Democrats ran Missouri today — we’d be reading Gov. Nicole Galloway’s thoughts on college sports conferences and the Mizzou basketball team and progressives’ tributes to how the 2022 Democratic redistricting maps will benefit all 37 genders.

Most importantly for the right: As heels, conservatives must win the matches that count — elections, appointments, and General Assembly sessions. But it’s imperative to give babyfaces wins in “squash matches,” the throwaway bouts on free TV/apps which don’t matter much. Encourage the babyfaces’ belief that Capitol history exhibits and statues and courthouse murals matter — and that you’d hate to see them score victories there. After expending their time and energy to win those battles, they get to hold their arms high and soak in the adulation — symbolism over substance.

11. Missouri’s Democratic journoperatives are experiencing a Rex Sinquefield void and need a new conservative archenemy. Much has been written about the personal and political pratfalls that led to the demise of Pelopidas, the public relations and policy arm of St. Louis philanthropist Rex Sinquefield. So we won’t rehash it here. But for those who only recently entered the Missouri political world, it’s relevant to know that Sinquefield served as an effective foil for journalists’ coverage of the Capitol — not to mention St. Louis City Hall — for nearly two decades. With the help of progressive advocacy groups, reporters linked GOP legislative agendas to Sinquefield’s priorities and his campaign contributions. The links were real, and they were spectacular.

At times over the past 20 years, the indignation machine temporarily diverted its angst to other boogeymen like Ed Martin, David Humphreys, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But as the main money man, Sinquefield was always atop the villainous heap.

12. Actionable item: The 2022 elections are an open audition for a conservative to elevate himself or herself into Missouri’s archvillain role. I doubt a woman will be cast in the role; male reporters and content creators are unlikely to risk even cursory gender-based pushback from the comfortable-shoe-wearing/#girlboss types.

At first glance, the top two contenders to fill the leading heel role are Steve Tilley and Gregg Keller.

The bipartisan trust and loyalty earned by Tilley and his team have long made some reporters’ blood boil; fittingly, the most blue-pill of reporters should really consult their doctors, as their raging engorgements for Tilley have lasted much longer than four hours/years.

Keller owns the libs both in real life (by being happy and unmasked) and on Twitter (by deftly twitstigating select Dems and various shorthair covens). One advantage for 2022: He’s on the front lines of the GOP vanguard against Eric Greitens, which puts Keller at odds with the media types rooting for a Greitens primary victory and general election defeat.

I’ll take a contrarian view: Neither Tilley nor Keller will fill the Lord Voldemort role. For certain, some reporters and content creators will continue criticizing Steve and Gregg — real-world success and financial independence make ham-and-eggers feel some type of way. But the new archvillain role is best suited for someone less qualified and more ravenous for the limelight. This guy doesn’t need the deep pockets himself — he just needs legitimate ties to conservative dollars, both disclosed and “dark.”

Payoffs include some percentage of grift (“consulting fees” laundered through various entities), speaking engagements, and most importantly, attention. Get moving now, Great Value Napoleons. There will be competition.

So far in this series, we’ve covered Missouri journalism, political campaigns, and Missouri political theater. Tomorrow, we’re talking addictions — specifically, how to position yourself and/or your clients to benefit from Missourians’ victimhood and smartphone addictions.