Wrestling ties honed po­lit­i­cal per­sona

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

From host­ing two WrestleMa­nias, tak­ing a “Stone Cold Stun­ner” in front of tens of thou­sands of fans and now bring­ing Linda McMa­hon into his Cabi­net, Don­ald Trump’s re­la­tion­ship with pro­fes­sional wrestling dates back 30 years — and an­a­lysts say the pres­i­dent-elect’s close ties to WWE helped him hone his bois­ter­ous, over-the-top po­lit­i­cal per­sona.

Mr. Trump through­out his busi­ness ca­reer has been re­mark­ably com­fort­able in and around a World Wrestling En­ter­tain­ment ring, and the bonds he has forged with Vince McMa­hon — a fel­low bil­lion­aire who turned what had been the re­gional WWWF pro­mo­tion into a mas­sive global brand — now have ex­tended to pol­i­tics.

Ms. McMa­hon gave mil­lions of dol­lars to PACs sup­port­ing Mr. Trump’s cam­paign, and the fam­ily do­nated money to his foundation.

Mr. Trump re­sponded by tap­ping Ms. McMa­hon, a Re­pub­li­can who mounted two un­suc­cess­ful U.S. Se­nate bids in WWE’s home state of Con­necti­cut, to lead the Small Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Although there has been no for­mal con­nec­tion be­tween Mr. Trump and the McMa­hons in nearly a decade, an­a­lysts say the in­com­ing com­man­der in chief owes the

wrestling ty­coons a debt of grat­i­tude for, if noth­ing else, giv­ing him a plat­form to pro­mote his brand and of­fer­ing him hands-on lessons in how to cap­ti­vate an au­di­ence.

“You could ar­gue that he was very per­for­ma­tive in many of the same ways a pro wrestling per­son­al­ity was,” said Sam Ford, a re­search af­fil­i­ate at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy’s com­par­a­tive me­dia stud­ies pro­gram.

Mr. Ford, who fol­lows WWE ex­ten­sively, noted sim­i­lar­i­ties in Mr. Trump’s po­lit­i­cal rise and the McMa­hons’ con­struc­tion of a world­wide wrestling em­pire.

“They’re both in­volved in sort of mod­ern-day myth-mak­ing of them­selves,” he said. “You think of how Trump refers to him­self and his em­pire, and the fact that WrestleMa­nia was re­fer­ring to it­self as the meet­ing place of the gods, the im­mor­tals … you can see that type of im­pre­sario, P.T. Bar­num­like, carnival barker men­tal­ity in how both of these worlds were cre­ated.”

Mr. Trump and WWE first crossed paths three decades ago when both were be­gin­ning to ce­ment their brands.

In March 1988, Mr. Trump hosted WrestleMa­nia IV at Trump Plaza in At­lantic City, New Jer­sey. The land­mark event — which in­cluded a re­match be­tween Hulk Hogan and An­dre the Gi­ant — con­tin­ued the wrestling pro­mo­tion’s rise into main­stream pop cul­ture.

It also co­in­cided with Mr. Trump’s na­tional pro­file. Five months ear­lier, he re­leased his best-known and most suc­cess­ful book, “The Art of the Deal.”

The event was such a com­mer­cial suc­cess for both sides that Mr. Trump hosted the next year’s event, WrestleMa­nia V, again at his At­lantic City casino.

Those events were key to fur­ther­ing the rapid growth of what was then called the WWF. The pro­mo­tion changed its name to the WWE and ac­knowl­edged that pro­fes­sional wrestling was a staged en­ter­tain­ment show, not an ath­letic con­test.

Ms. McMa­hon’s role in pro­pel­ling the com­pany has pre­pared her for a role in govern­ment, the pres­i­dent-elect said.

“She helped grow WWE from a mod­est 13-per­son op­er­a­tion to a pub­licly traded global en­ter­prise with more than 800 em­ploy­ees in of­fices world­wide,” Mr. Trump said this month when he nom­i­nated Ms. McMa­hon. “Linda is go­ing to be a phe­nom­e­nal leader and cham­pion for small busi­nesses and un­leash Amer­ica’s en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit all across the coun­try.”

Nearly 20 years af­ter WrestleMa­nia IV, when Mr. Trump’s star­dom hit new heights with the hit TV show “The Ap­pren­tice,” he again did busi­ness with the McMa­hons. In the run-up to 2007’s WrestleMa­nia 23, Mr. Trump fre­quently ap­peared on WWE tele­vi­sion to hype the “Bat­tle of the Bil­lion­aires” with Mr. McMa­hon.

The two busi­ness­men didn’t face off in the ring. In­stead, they se­lected wrestlers to com­pete on their be­half. The one whose hand-picked com­bat­ant lost would have his head shaved.

Lead­ing up to the event, the in­ter­play be­tween Mr. Trump and Mr. McMa­hon on the com­pany’s flag­ship TV show, “Mon­day Night Raw,” was as crass and out­ra­geous as one might ex­pect from two out­sized per­son­al­i­ties.

“He knows I have the grape­fruits to give him a patented Mr. McMa­hon bil­lion­aire bitch slap,” Mr. McMa­hon said dur­ing one ex­change.

“Your grape­fruits are no match for my Trump towers,” the fu­ture pres­i­dent-elect re­sponded, draw­ing wild cheers from the crowd.

At WrestleMa­nia, Mr. Trump’s pro­tege was vic­to­ri­ous and, with an as­sist from spe­cial guest ref­eree “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, he shaved Mr. McMa­hon’s head bald.

But Mr. Trump did not es­cape un­scathed — he ended up tak­ing a “Stone Cold Stun­ner,” Mr. Austin’s sig­na­ture fin­ish­ing move.

The event was a mas­sive com­mer­cial suc­cess and re­mains the sec­ond most watched WWE payper-view in his­tory, largely be­cause of the me­dia at­ten­tion gen­er­ated by Mr. Trump’s in­volve­ment.

“Trump was there to gen­er­ate main­stream in­ter­est in WrestleMa­nia,” Mr. Ford said.

Mov­ing for­ward, WWE of­fi­cials have openly dis­cussed how re­mark­able it might be to have a U.S. pres­i­dent re-en­ter the ring.

“Wouldn’t that be some­thing, see who gets their head shaved?” Paul Levesque, known to wrestling fans as Triple H, told CNBC this month when asked about a pos­si­ble Trump re­turn to WWE.

Now a top of­fi­cial with the com­pany and hus­band of Mr. McMa­hon’s daugh­ter Stephanie, Mr. Levesque de­scribed the in­com­ing pres­i­dent as a “great friend” to WWE.

“We’ve done a lot with Don­ald Trump over the years. He’s been a great sup­porter of WWE, he’s been a great friend to us. We’ve had events at his build­ing. He’s been a par­tic­i­pant at WrestleMa­nia,” he said. “It’s great to see him have the suc­cess he is hav­ing.”


RAZOR SHARP: Don­ald Trump’s in­volve­ment in the “Bat­tle of the Bil­lion­aires” with Vince McMa­hon in 2007’s WrestleMa­nia made it a com­mer­cial suc­cess — the sec­ond-most watched WWE pay-per-view in his­tory.


Don­ald Trump learned the art of show­man­ship from Vince McMa­hon and his wife, Linda, whom he tapped to head the Small Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

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