America at Large: Trump’s campaign resembling WWE buffoonery
The US presidential candidate has already been inducted into the sport’s Hall of Fame
WWE chairman Vince McMahon prepares to have his head shaved by Donald Trump and Bobby Lashley while being held down by ‘’Stone Cold’’ Steve Austin after losing a bet in the Battle of the Billionaires at the 2007 WWE’s Wrestlemania at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Donald Trump’s most notorious WWE cameo came at Wrestlemania 23 back in 2007. In a contest styled “The Battle of the Billionaires”, he and Vince McMahon, in the manner of grand old plutocrats, each nominated a black wrestler to duel it out on their behalf. As the bout between Umaga and Bobby Lashley ebbed and flowed as per pre-ordained instructions, Trump pranced around the perimeter of the ring, feigning anger one minute, bemusement the next, and indulging in some especially mediocre attempts at hamming it up for the cameras.
At one point, in the worst tradition of pantomime theatre, he even launched a “sneak” attack on an unsuspecting McMahon, replete with a few badly pulled rabbit punches. For a time, the pair of them rolled around the floor in their bespoke suits, looking, for all the world, like two intoxicated businessmen brawling at the end of an evening about some obtuse commercial bragging rights. Which is kind of exactly what they were.
After a few more minutes of orchestrated buffoonery, referee Stone Cold Steve Austin pinned McMahon in a barber’s chair in the centre of the ring. The owner of the WWE began to plead for his hair to be spared as Trump, by then brandishing an electric razor and a lame attempt at a manic grin, circled his prey. Eventually, he set about shearing McMahon’s grey mane, much to the delight of the crowd inside Detroit’s Ford Field and the millions watching on TV. In one more obviously rehearsed final twist to the whole grotesque bit, Austin eventually hit Trump with his trademark Cold Stone Stunner.
A review of the tape suggests Trump might have found his level in life that evening, a supporting actor role in a cheesy, made for television faux sporting spectacle. If only.
When he made his grand entrance to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July, the tone and the attitude of it reminded long-time WWE watchers of how The Undertaker used to arrive on stage in his pomp. Equal parts homage and straight rip-off, by that point in the election campaign, it had been increasingly obvious that, as a politician, Trump was near enough following the template that has made McMahon a fortune over the decades.
In the WWE every detail of a contest is meticulously planned, choreographed and scripted. Key players are given specific lines to deliver and often ludicrous plots to adhere to. They are also encouraged to improvise as the mood takes them and the match develops. However, they must, at all times, understand they have a responsibility to bolster the overarching narrative (who is supposed to win on the night) and to amplify the brand (ensuring bums on seats next time out).
During any given show, whether playing hero or heel, the performer is expected to offend, outrage, entertain, titillate, shock, and humiliate. As the need arises. No insult is too vulgar to throw in someone’s face. No ethnic stereotype too offensive to exploit. No stunt too cheap to pull.
These mantras have turned WWE from a local wrestling enterprise into a company worth an estimated $3.5 billion. They also appear to have informed Trump’s every move and public utterance since he first declared his candidacy in June of last year with what historians may one day term his “Mexico are sending us all the rapists” opening gambit.
His association with the WWE began in 1988 when he convinced McMahon (“Vincent’s a good friend of mine”) to allow him to host “Wrestlemania IV” at the (now defunct) Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He later graduated from ringside spectator to a series of cringe-inducing cameos that punched his ticket to the WWE Hall of Fame, a dubious enough accolade.
In one typically ridiculous storyline, he “bought” Monday Night Raw from McMahon and, in an eerie foreshadowing of future sloganeering, promised to make it great again. Needless to say, he didn’t. In another appearance, he arranged for thousands of dollars (some real, more fake) to be dropped on the crowd from the ceiling of the arena during fan appreciation night. Turned out later the genuine bills were not even his.
Still, it seems that along the way he learned so much that magazines as diverse as the ultra-conservative National Review and the painfully hip Rolling Stone have concluded this is the first WWE presidential candidacy. Well they might.
In the ring, the wrestler must put on a face, pretend to be something he isn’t and try to dupe the public into thinking the cartoon violence is authentic. He must cultivate a larger than life persona fuelled by a heady cocktail of braggadocio and bloviating, and hope this will persuade pre-pubescent kids who don’t know any better and overgrown man children who should that he is, in fact, the real deal. Sound familiar?
McMahon has used this formula to part fools from their cash. Trump is deploying the same shtick in his bid for the White House. A cynic might venture he may have been emboldened in terms of his grander career ambition by his experience in the WWE Universe. After all, if there are enough gullible rubes out there willing to fork over $59.95 on pay-per-view to watch pretend combat involving steroid-fuelled behemoths, that very constituency is surely vulnerable to a snake oil salesman capable of delivering the smack talk of a deranged demagogue.