Are pro wrestlers natural Republicans?
That was the question posed in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
Pro wrestling, the piece noted, is one of the most free market-oriented industries anywhere. It was suggested that most wrestlers support less government intrusion, more individual rights and freedoms, along with strong free-speech protections.
The most recent example of the growing GOP tide among pro wrestlers-turned-politicians is Glenn Jacobs, better known in WWE circles as Kane.
Last month the 51-year-old Jacobs was elected mayor of sprawling Knox County, Tenn., the state’s third-largest county, after defeating Democrat Linda Haney in a landslide. He had previously won the Republican primary by a slim 23 votes.
Aptly nicknamed “The Big Red Machine,” the 6-8, 300-pound Jacobs is a registered Republican who favors limited government and opposes tax increases. But he has supported libertarian ideas for years, endorsed Ron Paul, and campaigned a bi-partisan approach designed to enhance the quality of life for all his constituents.
As a small business owner, Jacobs said he would work within the constraints of the budget and create new jobs, keep taxes low and make the government “open and transparent.”
Modeling his campaign based on the principles of President Ronald Reagan, Jacobs repeated a version of Reagan’s conservative mantra that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
“As mayor, I will work harder than anyone to keep taxes low, to eliminate waste, to reduce red tape, and to make sure that Knox County is a place that all of us are proud to call home,” Jacobs pledged. “Ronald Reagan referred to America as the ‘shining city upon a hill.’ I think Knox County can be just that, an example to the rest of a beacon of light shining not on me or any elected official, but on all of you and our wonderful community.”
A populist who waged an “outside-the-box” campaign, Jacobs also has expressed his approval of President Donald Trump, saying he's “done a very good job, especially with the economy. You know, we see he’s cut regulation. I think the tax cuts really helped spur some growth.”
Jacobs reflects a growing trend of pro wrestlers becoming more involved in not only the political process, but political office as well. And most have held conservative views that fit well in GOP politics and WWE in particular.
Jacobs isn’t the first high-profile wrestler to try his hand in Tennessee politics. WWE Hall of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler, who supported Trump in the 2016 presidential election, has made two unsuccessful bids vying for the mayorship of Memphis.
Embracing the GOP
Glenn Jacobs’ boss for the past 23 years, WWE owner and sports entertainment magnate Vince McMahon, is a longtime GOP donor and supporter. McMahon’s wife, former WWE CEO Linda McMahon, ran twice as a Republican Senate candidate in Connecticut, losing in 2010 to Richard Blumenthal and 2012 to Chris Murphy.
Trump, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013, tapped the ranks of that wrestling juggernaut to fill his cabinet when he tapped Linda McMahon to lead the Small Business Administration.
Although he never wrestled, at least inside a ring, the president is a longtime friend and supporter of the equally enigmatic and chest-thumping Vince McMahon, with whom he has seemingly shared pleasure in uttering two favorite words: “You’re fired!”
Yet another WWE Hall of Famer, Booker T, whose real name is Robert Booker Tio Huffman, announced in 2016 that he planned to run for mayor of Houston in 2020. At the time he praised Trump for “talking like a man” instead of a politician.
“Donald Trump’s motive was great. He went straight to the people. He didn’t let anyone get in his way as far as the media blocking him for actually getting his message out,” said Huffman, 53, who is still employed by WWE and runs a wrestling school in Houston.
“Perhaps, 20 years from now, a lot of young people are going to be making decisions as how the landscape is going to look like as opposed to young people being a part of the problem. I want to be a part of the solution,” he told ESPN.
The first modern-era, high-profile WWE performer to successfully find a political window was the colorful and controversial Jesse “The Body” Ventura, who shocked the political world when he was elected governor of Minnesota in 1998. A member of the WWE Hall of Fame class of 2004, Ventura ran as the nominee of Ross Perot’s Reform Party, and later joined the Independence Party of Minnesota.
An independent, Ventura considered both major parties “gangs.”
“I am not a career politician,” Ventura said at the time. “I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican. I’m a working man with common-sense ideas and goals. I describe myself politically as fiscally conservative and socially moderate-to-liberal.”
Lacking the support from a major party, however, Ventura’s time in office was short.
But prior to the most recent presidential election, Ventura said, “If Donald Trump were to ask me to be his running mate, I would give it very serious consideration because anything to break up the status quo of this country. This country needs to be shaken up. It needs to be shaken to its very core, and Donald Trump is doing that.”
Another WWE Hall of Famer, Antonio Inoki, has served as a successful politician in Japan. He was elected to the Japanese House of Councillors in 1989 and led a one-man mission to Iraq in 1990 to negotiate the release of Japanese hostages with Saddam Hussein.
Inoki, best remembered elsewhere for fighting Muhammad Ali in Tokyo in 1976, was inducted into the WWE Hall after retiring from the ring in 1998.
South of the Border, a flamboyant performer who calls himself Sam Adonis (actually the younger brother of WWE commentator Corey Graves) proclaims himself to be the biggest villain in Mexico. His heat-seeking act includes waving a Donald Trump flag and boasting about building a wall.
The 29-year-old Adonis, however, took the act too far last weekend and was suspended by the local promotion for cutting an offensive promo. He has since apologized, claiming the words his character used were not a reflection of his true feelings.
“I am truly sorry to anyone that I have upset with my in-ring actions at Revolution Pro yesterday,” said Adonis. “Sam Adonis is a fictional character that I portray in the realm of pro wrestling. My lack of judgment led me to believe that offensive comments would be acceptable as entertainment in the 18-plus venue in which I was performing. These are not my personal beliefs and I am ashamed of letting the fans down.”
Making wrestling great
Former WWF champion Bob Backlund unsuccessfully sought a congressional seat in Connecticut as a Republican in 2000. As part of his “Mr. Backlund” gimmick, he would make children name every president before he would sign an autograph. More recently Backlund served as “life coach” for Darren Young, trumpeting the slogan “Make Darren Young Great Again,” an obvious nod to the Trump playbook.
The late Nikolai Volkoff, a Croatian-born Yugoslav who portrayed a communist Russian and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005, ran unsuccessfully for a Republican state delegate position in Maryland in 2006.
Current WWE performer Rhyno, whose real name is Terrance Gerin, lost a bid for the Michigan legislature in 2016 in a heavily Democratic district.
Several other former world champions have held strong Republican ties.
Sixteen-time world champion Ric Flair is a longtime Republican donor who actually once considered running for governor of North Carolina. He took part in George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 1988, Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential run and supported presidential candidate in Ted Cruz in 2016.
Former WWE champion John “Bradshaw” Layfield, who has served as a commentator on CNBC and Fox News, has long been associated with conservative politics.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a former WWE world champion and now the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, was an active Republican until recently. Now considered an independent, Johnson has even hinted that a 2020 bid for the presidency “is a real possibility.”
“In the past, I never would’ve considered running for president. I didn’t think I was qualified at all, but now I’m worried I’m too qualified,” he joked during an SNL skit.
Hulk Hogan, who supported Barack Obama in 2008 but switched to Mitt Romney in 2012, endorsed Trump in 2016. He even told celebrity website TMZ in 2015 that he wanted to be on Trump’s ticket as vice president.
Regardless of political affiliation, Jacobs told Sports Illustrated that he had something to prove, and that his victory was also a win for the wrestling community.
“I was also out to prove that WWE stars are more than just wrestlers,” said Jacobs. “We’re entertainers. We’re worldwide, internationally known superstars. Anything that I can do to break that stereotype, I’m all about it.”
One thing is for sure. Both pro wrestling and politics sure can rile up a crowd.