Newsday political reporter Dan Janison’s Wednesday column—“Trump: As Real As Pro Wrestling,” with the above Associated Press photograph from 2000—had me riding in the Way Back machine.
The fellow cozying up to The Donald in that photo, of course, is former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, whose campaign for the Minnesota governor’s office 17 years ago appeared to be a put-on until Ventura won. Which moved me to begin a Dec. 7, 1998 post-election report on Ventura for Newsday this way….
Ask not what Jesse Ventura has done for his…uh…sport, but what his sport has done in getting him elected governor of Minnesota. Ask not whether professional wrestling is real. Ask whether politics is real. At least, those were the knee-jerk questions when 37 percent of voting Minnesotans put Venture into office as a third-party candidate with a classic split-vote scenario last month. The Minnesota Star-Tribune quickly editorialized a “what have we done?” lament, dismissing Ventura as no more than a celebrity creation of rasslin’ and sports talk radio, his two most successful jobs in his 47 years. Around the state, “My Governor Can Whip Your Governor” sweatshirts and postcards popped up and sold out immediately.
In the 1985 movie, “Back to the Future,” when young Marty McFly was transported back 30 years in time and casually mentioned that, where he had come from, the President of the United States was one Ronald Reagan, McFly’s 1955 scientist friend guffawed to hear of such an important station for the old B-movie actor. “And who’s the vice-president?” he asked sarcastically. “Jerry Lewis?”
That was comedy. But this Trump thing, and Ventura’s mention this week that he would consider being Trump’s vice-president—a tag-team “leadership” built on boasting, preening and insults—feels closer to farce.
Not even Ventura’s name is authentic. He is James George Janos; he uses his pro wrestling stage handle because that’s what made him Known. Goofier still in considering a Trump-Ventura ticket, Ventura now lives in Mexico, and this week told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, “I love the life down there because it broadens me in the fact that—guess what?—I’m the minority. It’s something that all white people should take part in at some point, being a minority, because it gives you a new perspective on the world around you.”
That sort of open-minded outlook—is it real?—clearly clashes head-on with Trump’s characterization of Mexicans as “criminals” and “rapists.” (Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, this week called Trump “a bloviating megalomaniac” on NPR.) Where Trump’s rhetoric does seem to have been foreshadowed by Ventura was in the latter’s public disdain for the very job he sought, regularly denigrating the democratic process and legislative exercise.
Janison, in marveling at Trump’s use of “standard techniques for pro wrestlers,” noted Trump’s credentials as a member of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) Hall of Fame, and for having his Atlantic City Trump Plaza host some of WWE’s “over-the-top events.” Events that typically suspend reality and common sense, not to mention the political correctness Trump loathes.
In my reporting on Ventura’s 1998 election, I was told by Dave Meltzer, who had been operating a popular pro wrestling newsletter for more than 15 years, that “Most people within wrestling would never admit this, but privately, they think Jesse’s election is a joke. Because, in wrestling, everything is a con.”
Abe Lincoln gets the last words: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”