Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How the 2000 tag team of Donald Trump and Jesse Ventura set the stage for a "wrestler in the White House"

Wrestler CM Punk from the indies to the "Big League".
Trump, teasing a run in 2000 to officially announcing his Presidential bid in 2015.
Wrestlers hone their stagecraft as they develop, perfecting their lines and shaping their personas. As they move up the ranks from the indie circuit to the big stage, storylines may get rehashed as they reintroduce themselves to bigger and bigger audiences. The same goes for politics.
Presidential candidates who may have been popular or influential in their districts or States, mount campaigns using the playbook that served them well on the regional stage. Deploying familiar lines and refining their message, a look into one's Gubernatorial or Senate races might telegraph a candidate's arc.
That being said, often times the wider public only see the latest and grander incarnation. Unaware of the recycled messaging and the winding road to becoming the character they see in front of them.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Trump left no such trail as he became the first person to assume the Presidency with no prior political or military experience. Donald Trump has been a public figure for several decades and has hinted at becoming President as early as 1988 and signaling serious bids from 2000.
That Time Donald Trump And Jesse Ventura Talked Campaign Strategy
Donald Trump's "outsider" campaign for president is nothing new to Minnesota voters — it's very similar to the one that elected former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura in 1998.

In fact, Trump once came to Minnesota to find out from Ventura himself exactly how he did it while he was considering a run for public office himself.

"It's almost like he's reading our playbook," said Dean Barkley, Ventura's campaign chairman, who Ventura later appointed to the U.S. Senate. "Ventura had very, very high negatives. Nobody took him seriously. What he had going for him was his personality, and his ability to connect with people."
VIDEO: Donald Trump Jesse Ventura press conference

Watching Trump and Ventura's news conference on the Reform Party presidential race of 2000, you'll find talking points that foretell storylines for Trump's winning campaign 16 years later. Those who followed the campaign closely might recognise now-familiar phrases from this event, including the iconic Trumpism - "Big League".

Below are selected transcripts of that 2000 speech accompanied by mirroring headlines from 2016.
MSNBC: Trump campaign a cover for moneymaking scheme
Trump addressing the charge that his Presidential campaign is a publicity stunt, a glorified book tour
REPORTER: (17m 06s) Is this more of a book tour promotion than a Presidential Campaign?
DONALD TRUMP: ... All 3 of my books have been No.1 Bestsellers. I don't need this for that. New York City's the hottest selling city in the World. I'm selling condominiums and buildings like crazy. I don't need it for that. I'm doing this very seriously. The book whether it goes to No.1 as the other 3 have or whether it doesn't is not a major factor economically. It's not a lot of money in a book no matter how successful it is.

I am looking very seriously as to whether or not it can be won. Very much like Jesse, you go out and you run. If I go out and get 20% of the vote. Big deal! People say "Great Job" for 24 hours, Great Job. And not that its a bad place I'm back in my office at Trump Tower the following Wednesday. So I'm looking as to whether or not I can win. If I can win I believe I can do a very good job otherwise I wouldn't be running. It's as simple as that.
HARTFORD COURANT: Trump brings fiery message to thousands in Hartford
Donald Trump on the support he's gotten by way of the thousands in attendance at his rallies
REPORTER: Mr Trump, on that point you had a packed house here today. How have you done elsewhere in the Country. What kind of feelings are you getting, what kind of vibe...?

TRUMP: Well its been amazing. As I think you know its been amazing. We've had 17,000 people show up in California. We had 14,000 show up in Hartford, Connecticut you know its a little disconcerting when you leave and you say "How many people am I speaking in front of?", your secretary says "17,500 people". And you never sort of heard of that.
We have had a tremendous response. On television we've gotten the highest ratings, on Larry King and virtually every show. 60 Minutes is doing a big piece on January 11th where I speak very brilliantly of him [Jesse Ventura]... so its been very strong.
POLITICO: How did everyone get it so wrong?
Jesse Ventura describing how the voters defied unanimous polls that pegged him to lose his 3-way Gubernatorial race in 1998. Echoing Donald Trump's unlikely Presidential win of 2016.
JESSE VENTURA: ... You can't focus on a particular market but certainly if you can have a dynamic campaign that inspires young people. Those are voters that aren't polled which is another great disservice to the 15% we're talking about that we're supposed to get because I never once -- to show you how fraudulent polling can be. I never once, not at one point in my election was I polled to be the winner. There was not one poll that indicated that Jesse Ventura would be the next Governor of the state of Minnesota yet when that November 3rd came, who won? And the polls didn't dictate who won, the voters dictated it and I ended up winning that election when no poll indicated that in the first place and that's why it was fraudulent that they would set that type of thing up based upon polling results
WASHINGTON POST: Here's why Trump's attacks on 'fake news' succeed
Donald Trump and Jesse Ventura pushing back on reporters who were mischaracterizing them
REPORTER: (15m 31s) Governor,  Donald Trump said earlier that he thinks if he decided to run for President that you would probably endorse him
TRUMP: I didn't say that. When did I say that?!
VENTURA: Aah you see, we caught you Press
TRUMP: He's the New York Post, don't worry. It's the New York Post (pointing lightheartedly)
VENTURA: You see if Donald wasn't here now, they would have gotten away with that question.
TRUMP: Now look at him, he just hides his head. He doesn't even dispute it. That's alright, New York Post
*room laughs*

REPORTER: (26m 15) Do you seen anyone else, do you know of any other [candidate you could endorse]?
VENTURA: I haven't been searching for anyone
REPORTER: Has anyone spoke to you and asked for your endorsement?
REPORTER: So you're probably going to endorse Donald Trump if he runs?
TRUMP: (interjects) Again -- New York Post Governor. Don't worry about it.
VENTURA: I know, I like the New York Post. They write all sorts of fabrications
Its worth noting how cordial the press' relationship with Trump is was, known then as a political freelancer and folksy celebrity businessman. Compared to today, where President Trump has a sub 40% approval rating and is resisted by a large swathe of the population despite retaining his populist appeal.
The conference was held 4 years prior to the success of NBC's 'The Apprentice' and Jesse Ventura declaring "we may need a Wrestler in the White House" alongside the Donald at WrestleMania XX.
Jesse had coaxed Trump ringside that day to endorse him but it would be Trump who would go on to occupy the highest office in the land 12 years later.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The #TrumpMeetsTrudeau handshake: The Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump showdown

US President Donald Trump met Canadian PM Justin Trudeau for the first time last week. It was a cordial affair between neighboring leaders featuring a roundtable discussion of Women in Business alongside Ivanka Trump and several females CEOs from both countries.

However the enduring narrative from the visit were the handshakes, a commonplace but time-honored tradition. Memes circulated about how adeptly Prime Minister Trudeau maneuvered against Trump's infamous handshake style.

VIDEO: Trump's awkward handshakes with World Leaders

What do we make of the fascination behind the showdown. Why were so many people invested in a handshake?
That Viral Photo of Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump Is Not What It Seems
… We live in a new normal of misinformation sharing, one where falsities are pushed as truths by the highest levels of power. And so people are grasping for images that either back up their preexisting notions or turn the mainstream narrative on its head, and then sharing with their followers to further the reach.
In this case, a confrontation between western democracy's top babyface (hero) and top heel (villain). The dreamboat liberal, Justin Trudeau against divisive celebrity mogul, Donald Trump. Both men are evenly matched and have overlapping qualities despite their philosophical differences. They're similarly privileged sons who've capitalised off their father's name and have a keen understanding of stagecraft to bypass traditional media.
Is Trudeau the ultimate image manipulator? Not quite 
Traditional media are weakening, social media and online media strengthening, and the latter feast on image and celebrity. Of course, the Prime Minister’s Office counts on new media to counterbalance the traditional skeptical coverage of old media.
Justin Trudeau headlining ‘Fight for the Cure 5' (2012).
Donald Trump in the Main Event of WrestleMania 23 (2007)
Interestingly both men used blockbuster fight events as a springboard for their Presidential ambitions. With their outsized personas and rabid following as champions for diametrically opposed world views. A showdown between these bordering leaders is a promoter's dream, the ultimate matchup. Even the thought of a clash provides catharsis.

The audience knows what they want
To best sell a fight its ideal that both fighters come in strong and to have juice behind them. In wrestling the positive reaction a fighter gets is called a "Pop". The negative reaction,"Heat". This was evident on Twitter timelines with varied reactions to #TrudeauMeetsTrump depending on one’s political leanings.

A change in orientation (turn) from hero to villain or vice versa is commonplace in wrestling. Not so in politics as flip-flopping is ordinarily viewed as political suicide. Reinvention is integral to wrestling, characters change gimmicks and switch allegiances to keep audiences engaged. There's also the opening for a glorious return to form, a reboot of their persona. Interestingly this mirrors the transformation of public figures like Trump and successful celebrity cum politicians before him. Such as Governors, Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's worth noting all three are in the WWE hall of fame.

In today's partisan times its rare for politicians to cross the aisle to get matters resolved, let alone switch parties. Those who do are generally viewed with skepticism, seen as pariahs from both sides. The antidote to this is having the support of the people. To fashion yourself as a "maverick", an outsider taking on the establishment. With the correct gimmick and the unwavering support of your fans you can get away with anything. The same in wrestling goes for Politics.

Irreverent wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had license to assault respected celebrities and an elderly woman. Likewise, Trump’s popularity and charisma inoculated him from scandals that would have felled previous politicians. Inexplicably, stoushes with war heroes and the Pope only strengthened his aura.
Whilst a duel between Trump and Trudeau would be a major draw, it will unlikely yield what political partisans are after. Especially the #NeverTrumpers longing for a bogeyman to finally dethrone the Donald. Annihilation is only possible through the erosion of public support, the key is preserving relevancy. As main event fighters and image savvy personas, Trump and Trudeau understand this. If both men remain standing, the rival fanbases would only become further entrenched rather than converted by defeat.

In wrestling, the slightest event can trigger a program. A stolen action figure or a spilled coffee cup could foreshadow a future rivalry. Donald Trump is not known for his subtlety, he telegraphs his intentions through tweets and isn't afraid to make enemies. Conversely, Trudeau takes after Barack Obama. The former top babyface and Trump's predecessor, a sensible diplomat who'll be restrained in his engagement with the World's Most Powerful Man. The social media response over the handshake teases the excitement that would come off a Trump/Trudeau face-off. I just wouldn't force it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Introducing @NicoDenoir, the finest Politics is Wrestling Twitter account today

The Politics is Wrestling meme went mainstream in 2016 with Donald Trump's ascension and ultimate conquest of American Politics. As the #1 resource for the analogy, I've tracked the growth of 'Politics is Wrestling' since 2007. In the early days it was easier to find mentions of the meme as it wasn't in vogue yet. Prior to Trump, the original meme torchbearer was Jesse Ventura. The WWE Hall of Famer turned Minnesota Governor taught classes at Harvard in 2004 on how Pro-Wrestling prepares you for Politics. In 2010 the Daily Show brought the meme to the mainstream in a segment featuring Wyatt Cenac and wrestler Mick Foley. 

Today we're inundated with a deluge of stories and blog posts on how Politics is Wrestling. Taking hiatus from the blog when there were murmurs of a Trump Presidential run in 2011, I'd been out of the loop as far as storylines went. 

That was until I discovered @nicodenoir on Twitter, he's been my biggest source for keeping up to date with 'Politics is Wrestling'. Nico introduced me to Brandon Wetherbee and Chris Kelly, co-authors of 'The Donald: How Trump Turned Presidential Politics into Pro Wrestling' and the 'Great American Bash' podcast. He connected me with the 'Review America' podcast with Brian Mann and Nate Milton. Both podcasts discussing American Politics through the prism of Pro-Wrestling and founded July, 2016.

I got in touch with Nico to find more about him and get his take looking back on 2016. I'd hoped to release this by Inauguration Day but decided I wanted to crank up my animations again. Expect to see more Pundits added to the existing roster of PunditFighters and changes to some of the original cast. I'm toying with the idea of creating a stable for the best champions of the 'Politics is Wrestling' meme.

1. What's your relationship with Wrestling and Politics, how long have you been engaged with both?
 After graduating from Concordia University in Political Science, I spent over a decade in Canadian federal politics as an executive in communications, while also having been involved in the American 08’ New Hampshire presidential primaries.

My expertise is in public relations, speech writing and campaign management. My first wrestling memory is walking under the hot and arid Stampede Wrestling tent at the age of 5 in Calgary. At my first live wrestling event, I saw WWF Intercontinental Champion Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat in a No DQ Match, at the Montreal Forum in 1987.

I've been with the International Wrestling Syndicate since its inception in 1999, holding various roles with them behind-the-scenes over the years, while being currently involved as a public relations and social media consultant.

2. Explain your interest in the Politics is Wrestling analogy. How did you first come up with or come across the idea? 

 I first noticed the relationship between pro wrestling and politics while studying speech writing in College and falling onto the famous Dusty Rhodes 'Hard Times' promo. To this day, I still think that promo may arguably be the greatest political speech ever.

3. What were your 5 favorite Politics is Wrestling links for 2016, providing some background?
After Linda's failed senatorial races representing the Republican Party in Connecticut, once Chris Christie dropped out of the presidential race, the McMahon’s rallied behind their old friend Trump. The McMahon donation to the Trump campaign assured Linda's candidacy for appointment.

While everyone's focus was on Trump, Rhyno also ran for politics this year, doing a great job in his campaign which was highly substantial in local policies. He also continued to perform as a wrestler on the SmackDown brand throughout his campaign.
Dwayne Johnson has alluded in passing to entering politics, but this year was his coming out in affirming his interest in running for the highest office. Ironically, US politicians generally deny until the last minute their intentions to run for President, but obviously for The Rock, "it doesn't matter what you think".
I used these two incidences as an exercise to demonstrating the different ways a mistake can be publicly confronted, as the Democrats denied wrong-doing by deflecting the blame, Reigns faced his situation head-on by admitting fault and apologising.
While many speculated that Trump was using the professional wrestling playbook during his campaign, it was this Meet The Press interview that confirmed this reality, most notably from Vince McMahon's congratulatory call for the Republican National Convention entrance.

4. How would you best describe 2016? 
2016 was the year where the analogy of politics as wrestling was legitimized by the Trump candidacy. While Jesse Ventura has been playing this up all along since his mandate as Governor of Minnesota, it hadn't hit the American mainstream until now. By the end of last summer, politics as wrestling was on everyone’s mind.

Looking forward, it remains to be seen what effect the Trump campaign will have on others in the wrestling industry who have future political aspirations including Glenn Jacobs (Kane), Booker T, Cody Rhodes, Dwayne Johnson and quite possibly John Cena.