Year-end lists are always the “best” or “worst” or some straightforward kind summary of the last twelve months, but politics doesn’t really lend itself well to that format given its existence in shades of gray, so we’re going to get a little creative in summarizing this year’s race for next year’s election.
As a lifelong wrestling fan with a political science degree, I feel uniquely qualified to write this column. Politics and professional wrestling have a lot in common. They both hold distorted mirrors up to society that communicate their message in a manner that children can understand, they’re overflowing with real-life and in-character egomaniacs, and those at the very top of the most powerful organizations fill their broadcasts with kayfabe (a wrestling term for staged events based on real-life facts). Here is a list of everyone involved in the 2020 election who’s spirit and message is summed up by some of the most famous wrestling promos ever.
Quick note: I am a card carrying Bernie supporter and won’t attempt to hide that, but I’m trying to be nice to most of the candidates here and use examples worth watching that depict them in a positive light, save for the few who don’t deserve it.
Speaking of one of those few, Tom Steyer is the first billionaire to purchase a spot ahead of sitting Senators in the presidential line, and really all that he and the other billionaire vanity campaign have in a retort to the very legitimate question of “wtf?” is “oh well.” There is one promo that perfectly embodies the entire existence of billionaire presidential candidate X in the year 2019, and it’s the famed “life sucks and then you die” diatribe given by who I believe to be the greatest wrestling heel of all time—and who is one of Donald Trump’s few real life friends—WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.
Amy Klobuchar is extremely and earnestly corny just like WWE’s resident Olympic Champion. This one may be the easiest to figure out because Amy Klobuchar has such extreme Kurt Angle energy that it’s hard to not see it anymore once the realization washes over you. For the uninitiated, Kurt Angle is an actual Olympic gold medalist wrestler (winning it with a broken freakin’ neck) who became one of the best characters of the golden era of WWE: the Attitude Era (heel = bad guys, face = good guys). We’ll cheat a little and use a segment instead of a promo, as the famous Stone Cold cosplay, but with milk instead of beer, is the Senator from Minnesota’s professional wrestling parallel. Consider Stone Cold and everyone else in the ring as leftists and Angle’s actions being the Klobuchar equivalent on the debate stage.
This one is very difficult, because it could be so many. The historic Hard Times promo by Dusty Rhodes is probably the one that’s closest to Bernie Sanders himself (given how prescient it was to our modern politics so long ago), but we’re going to include Sanders’ movement in this analogy because the most famous promo of the 21st century is a rallying cry for the WWE version of Sanders’ grassroots insurgency.
One of the key aspects of being a WWE fan is hating the product (especially these days). Countless popular wrestlers have been held back by management for years, and have created Wrestlemania glory out of that fact. That’s what this wrestler who eventually left the company was getting at in this famous “pipe bomb” promo (with a very real-life contract dispute clouding the reality of the on-screen product). The leftist insurgency trying to refocus the Democratic Party is emblematic of these grassroots pushes by WWE’s most ardent wrestling fans to get the best wrestlers to the top of the company.
Despite its seeming off-the-cuff genius, his mic was not actually cut off, and this promo wound up being the perfect example of what great kayfabe looks like. CM Punk was such a powerful cultural force in the WWE that fans now chant his name to voice their displeasure with a segment or a match, with the leftist version of “CM Punk!” being “Bernie would have won.” Bernie’s combative personality and willingness to speak harsh truths gives him some genuine heel qualities, which is why his 2016 campaign was basically the politics version of Punk’s pipe bomb promo, minus the kayfabe (fast-forward to 1:45).
Becky Lynch is objectively the biggest star currently in WWE. She main-evented Wrestlemania with Ronda Rousey and walked home with two titles. She is the Stone Cold Steve Austin of this era, and she is a promo machine. Face Becky’s confident energy screams “Elizabeth Warren,” and this shot about how she doesn’t care that Rousey is the “baddest bitch on the planet cuz I’m gonna make you mine” is a good metaphor for Warren’s aggressive suite of plans for the wealthy. The Senator from Massachusetts is a lot more delicate in communicating who is and who is not going to be her &%$#!, but as any person with a net worth above $50 million knows, she’s coming hard for certain folks who are very clearly in her sights.
While she was not us leftist’s favorite, all of us should be dismayed that a black female Senator from California with that kind of institutional backing still is apparently an underdog against a white guy billionaire saying “yeah, sure, why not?” If anyone embodies Becky Lynch’s true spirit, it’s not Elizabeth Warren, but this former prosecutor who ran explicitly on how brutally she was going to roast Trump into oblivion. Like every wrestler of our anti-establishment age, Becky Lynch only got “over” (made popular) with the crowd once she turned heel. Heel Becky is not Elizabeth Warren. Heel Becky is 100% Kamala. Speak your truth Kamala (fast-forward to 0:52).
I’ve been mean enough to Joe Biden this year, so I’ll be nice and use him as an excuse to show you the glory of Stone Cold Steve Austin: what the pure testosterone of a 12 year old boy looks like in human form. Austin famously said that the best wrestlers just play themselves, but with the volume turned up, and he embodied that spirit as much as anyone. His and The Rock’s promos made Monday Night Raw must-see TV for a generation of millennials. The Stone Cold-Biden comparisons work too, because Stone Cold has a similar cadence and can get a little rambly as well (which we’ll feature in a later video).
This piping hot promo recently delivered by Dusty Rhodes’ son against Chris Jericho could have been Mayor Pete sounding off on Biden. It’s perfect. A new mainstream wrestling product just launched, backed by serious money, as AEW is challenging the old status quo with a product that’s similar, but way better and actually thought-out. Personally owning this new “Ellis Island” of left-of-centerism as something Buttigieg will fight for no matter what lined him up to be the Cody Rhodes of the Democratic primary (fast-forward to 3:45 for where it really gets intense).
But instead, because he started spouting Republican-style attacks on programs he once feigned support for, I can think of no better example to summarize Mayor Pete’s candidacy to date than Seth Rollins’ infamous heel turn on The Shield (the left side of the party in this analogy), and Rollins’ explanation as for why he was doing “what was best for business.” This is a really good promo that doesn’t take a whole lot of deeper reading to connect it to the harsh realities of American politics.
Booker T is an easy cheat for this since they share a name, and while Booker T is famous for many things in his Hall of Fame career, almost any excuse to share the promo where he calls Hulk Hogan the n-word is worth it. Personality-wise, it doesn’t work at all though. Booker T is a classic arrogantly aggressive wrestling character, and Cory Booker is a corny dude running an explicitly positive campaign, which evokes more images of Kurt Angle-types. Since he’s running as the most wholesome candidate ever, let’s go with the ever-evolving Chris Jericho’s Festival of Friendship as Booker’s parallel with the Democratic primary field. Kevin Owens turning on Jericho at the end of this segment is political polling in this analogy.
The Million Dollar Man, Ted Dibiase, basically walked us through how Michael Bloomberg outlasted Kamala Harris in the Democratic Primary. Bloomberg is no-doubt betting his entire candidacy on the hopes that “we all have a price.”
We’re cutting him out to try to keep this just at 2000 words. Patrick’s trying the Steyer-Bloomberg strategy without Steyer-Bloomberg money. Of all the no-hopers, this campaign is the no hopiest.
Another great example of kayfabe is The Miz (of Real World fame) and Daniel Bryan’s actual rivalry. It’s a great opposites attract situation, and both of these guys are great at actually taking shots at each other’s vast differences. The Miz just exudes heel energy—as does Tulsi Gabbard (her appearances on Fox News add to this aura). This intense segment below perfectly summarizes Gabbard’s experience with Kamala Harris on the debate stage, with Tulsi landing seriously good punches, but with all of it resulting in zero winners while The Miz comes off as a madman as everyone else slowly slinks away off camera.
The #YangGang is all about MATH (which stands for Make America Think Harder), and he’s a charismatic outsider who’s numbers make sense at first, but reveal some basic flaws upon deeper consideration. Scott Steiner’s rant about the dwindling odds his opponent faces is the MATH of the wrestling world.
Another one of our cheery campaigns has been made dreary by the harsh realities of America. If any mayor in this race was going to make a run, on paper, it seems that it would favor the former Obama administration official who ran San Antonio, not the McKinsey spreadsheet associate who runs the fourth largest city in Indiana. For Castro’s equal, we’ll go with our friendly Attitude Era monster who wants everyone to “have a nice day,” Mankind, who is asking for a title shot. Mankind was always an optimistic character despite his bubbling rage and madness, but he did not look like the traditional WWE superstar nor act like one, and this famed scene with the establishment (Vince McMahon) telling him why he’s getting out of his lane is a good wrestling segment that echoes the depressing reality of Julian Castro’s run to date.
I could take the easy way out and just add one of the promos Trump did during his Wrestlemania angle with Vince McMahon in WWE, but those sucked. He’s somehow awful at wrestling promos despite that being the only way he knows how to talk.
The point in this year-end list is to entertain, and so I must find someone actually good at their wrestling job to serve as a parallel for President Donald J. Trump. Heel Rick Flair is the closest wrestling character to Trump, as he threw his wealth and success in your face every millisecond that he could—but I can’t do that to the Nature Boy. Besides, there’s an Attitude Era “pipe bomb” by a “Paul Heyman guy” (well, Paul Heyman) that could make its way on to WWE TV in 2019 and fit better than CM Punk’s famed pipe bomb did, all while perfectly summarizing the general attitude inside Trumpworld towards the president.
Trump swims in a world of sketchy men by his own admission, and so this promo below is the perfect representation of Trump’s 2020 campaign. The scene opens with former ECW owner Paul Heyman—a better version of Vince McMahon’s character with less real life money than Vince—roasting the WWE Chairman over very real-life grievances (like buying and destroying Heyman’s ECW). Consider Heyman to be Michael Cohen in this analogy, as he unloads on his abusive boss—dropping lines like “Vince’s own children want him to burn in hell”—and all Vince can muster in return is staying silent as someone else does the dirty work for him, then declaring himself to be the winner as his yes men on the microphone cheer on the slaughter. It’s so utterly Trumpian that you’d think the president’s subconscious wrote this bit.
The famed “woke” faction of the party, or whatever light denigration you want to label the 43% of Democrats who voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016, is very much its own force in this primary. Kevin Owens recently going off on the ultimate legacy kid, Shane McMahon, is a more literal than metaphorical description of how leftists have communicated their anger towards the upper echelon of the Democratic Party since 2016—right down to the pissed off hipsterish-looking white guy being the loudest one in the building who refuses to shut up and let anyone else talk.
These are the two dominant factions in the party which have coalesced around Biden and Bernie, while most everyone else can largely be described as “still shopping” according to current polling. To highlight the only part of WWE currently worth watching, we will go with Charlotte Flair’s rehearsed and genuine arrogance to highlight the center’s grievances with us Alexa Bliss’s on the left. This is a really good scripted promo ruined by some very confused messaging at the very end.
BONUS: The Rock Obama
Many folks were likely disappointed to scroll through an entire wrestling nostalgia column and see nothing about the biggest movie star in the world, (*CM Punk voice*) Dwayne Johnson. That’s because no one in this race can touch The Rock’s magnetic charisma. He was a one-man show who embodied the late 1990s more than any other human alive. There is only one political candidate in our lifetimes who can ascend to these metaphorical heights, and it is the 44th president.
Below is my all-time favorite segment by both The Rock and Stone Cold. These titans of the 1990s and early 2000s explain why wrestling can be so great and so perfectly stupid in about 14 minutes. The more I watched it and heard lines like “if you wanna hear The Rock and Stone Cold sing a duet together, gimme a hell yeah,” the more I realized how much this standoff had in common with Joe Biden and Barack Obama’s battle in 2008 that ultimately led to America’s favorite buddy comedy (fast-forward to 1:10 for their face to face meeting).
As someone who has spent much of their life with their headspace in both of these universes, I can confidently state that wrestling is much less damaging to your brain than politics.
Jacob Weindling is a writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.