“I’m taller than you. I’m better-looking than you. I think … I think I’m stronger than you. And I’m here to challenge you to a match … .”
Yes, that is a direct quotation from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
However, he was speaking to neither Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton nor any of the candidates who he ran against and beat for the Republican nomination for president.
Instead, this quotation dates back to a time when Donald Trump was primarily known for his television appearances. In 2007, Trump challenged Mr. McMahon, the egoistic character based on and played by CEO and chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment Vince McMahon, to a TV wrestling match that was billed as the “Battle of the Billionaires.”
Though the two “billionaires” ultimately chose professional wrestlers to do the wrestling for them, the matchup between Trump and McMahon was hailed as one of the highlights of WrestleMania 23 and earned Trump an enthusiastic following within WWE.
Trump’s rise in the world of professional wrestling — a realm in which he has no particular experience — is interesting in itself, but can also help an increasingly puzzled American public understand how a real-estate-mogul-turned-TV-personality became a veritable presidential candidate.
Though professional wrestling and national politics may initially seem unrelated, Trump has the unique credit of recognizing the two worlds’ similarities and playing to his strengths in each of them.
First and foremost, Trump recognized that WWE’s value lay neither in truthfulness nor the sport it purports to be about. WWE’s programs are less about wrestling as we see them in high school gyms than they are about entertainment — a fact that Trump capitalized on and continues to do so.
Notably, in the midst of the 2007 “Battle of the Billionaires,” Trump surprised the crowd by briefly tackling McMahon to ground. The move caused McMahon no physical harm, but the audience was entertained nonetheless.
Trump took WWE’s central principle and successfully applied it to his presidential run. Showmanship took precedence over policy as early as August 2015 when the first Republican primary debate attracted a record-24 million viewers — largely due to Trump’s presence.
Bravado ruled from the opening minutes of Trump’s campaign as he singled himself out as the sole candidate who refused to rule out a third-party run if he did not earn the Republican nomination. From that evening onward, Trump set a precedent of highlighting his ability to command attention as a standard of measuring his popularity and success, thus glossing over his sparse political experience and inconsistent platform — typical aspects that conventional presidential campaigns have deemed important.
Moreover, in both professional wrestling and politics, Trump has positioned himself as a heroic outsider who challenges well-established “villainous” characters. In WWE, this became most apparent in a 2007 episode of Monday Night Raw that pitted McMahon and Trump against each other once again in a fight for the audience’s affection on “Fan Appreciation Night.”
As McMahon cast himself as the villain who “appreciated” fans by showing off a fake magazine with himself on the cover, a benevolent, godlike Trump appeared on the big screen and cued the moment for thousands of real dollars to rain down on the audience.
The scripted nature of the moment or the likelihood that it was not Trump’s own money falling from the arena ceiling was unimportant; for WWE fans, the staging of the moment cemented Trump’s heroic role on WWE.
Nine years later, Trump has applied the same tactics to his presidential race with Hillary Clinton. Trump’s campaign has endeavored to portray Clinton as a wealthy, corrupt Washington politician, and Trump has referred to Clinton as “Crooked Hillary” on Twitter to further his point.
Trump considers himself the champion of Americans. Trump has assumed the responsibility of saving America from Hillary, despite his significant personal wealth and engagement in questionable practices — both of which are points he has criticized Clinton for.
With polling suggesting that neither Clinton nor Trump can gain a sizable lead on the other, every advantage counts. And if entertainment and staged grand heroic acts become the standard that we hold our politicians to, consider Trump the next U.S. president.
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