When I was about ten years old, my dad brought me to a town council meeting so I could see how local politics works and understand its importance. As I watched the man in the center of the room, seated, speaking in front of a microphone, a do-rag wrapped around his head, he caught my eye and winked at me.
That man was Jesse Ventura. At the time, he was the mayor of my town. A few years later, he was elected and served one term as governor of Minnesota. Ventura reminds me of someone else who has become a fixture of political debate in the last few months. Like Ventura, Donald Trump has his own flamboyant style and signature campaign slogans.
Yet at the end of his political tenure, Jesse “The Body”‘ Ventura had few positive results to show for it—and neither does that look likely for The Donald. Trump’s chart-topping poll numbers have begun to slide, and he recently told CNBC, ““If I fell behind badly, I would certainly get out.”
I am Alpha, Hear Me Roar
Trump and Ventura are classic Alpha males. Their persona is large, their language dynamic, their demeanor flamboyant. By the time Ventura was elected governor, he boasted a career as a professional wrestler and member of the U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Team. (On the way to the meeting, my dad pointed out the license plate attached to Ventura’s Porsche: UDTSEAL.) That group was later folded into what we now refer to as Navy SEALs.
Ventura has always voiced strong, sometimes irreverent, opinions, indifferent to their effect. He often shamed the beliefs of others he deemed inferior. He once said, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.” He liked to parade his masculinity, and called out Dick Cheney during an interview with Larry King on torture: “You give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney, and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.” After his campaign, t-shirts bore the slogan: “My Governor Can Beat Up Your Governor.”
Likewise, Trump broadcasts his Alpha traits as often as possible. In the last Republican primary debate, he actually said: “I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ And I say that not in a braggadocio way.” He often brags about his billionaire socioeconomic status. As he said to Jeb Bush during the debate, “Trust me, Jeb. If I wanted corruption, I could have paid for it! I always pay for corruption!”
He’s borderline—some would say completely—misogynistic. Again, a debate soundbite: “I will take care of women. I respect women. I will take care of women.” I’m not sure that history, nor his comments about Carly Fiorina, show this.
It’s Only Your Reputation At Stake
While on the one hand Ventura made his name with his bombastic personality and unique political views, on the other hand, it hurt his—and Minnesota’s—reputation. No political leader who is in the limelight 24/7 can avoid a gaffe or misstep, but Ventura seemed to seek them out. He referred to the press as “media jackals,” a term that even appeared on official press passes. When Minnesota author and humorist Garrison Keillor wrote a book about Ventura, he responded angrily to the jokes (although he later offered Keillor an olive branch).
Ventura was also litigation-hungry. He filed a lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration, then later against the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle for defamation. When Kyle was killed, Ventura swapped in Kyle’s wife as the defendant. Granted, a jury found in Ventura’s favor to the tune of $1.8 million. But who continues a lawsuit against a SEAL’s widow? Seems like bad form, even if he was legally in the right.
Trump, likewise, has thin skin and has said some outlandish things. He’s sure of his skills, despite never having held political office, and he puts down others to demonstrate that. “We are led by very, very stupid people….We will have so much winning if I get elected, that you may get bored with winning.”
Trump called Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer “a totally overrated clown.” He tweeted, “Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?”
All Smoke, No Fire
More than his thin skin and grandiose personality, the worst thing about Ventura was what he did during his tenure as governor. Being a governor worked out well for Ventura, but not for the citizens of Minnesota. Jason Lewis, a former Minnesota talk show host, wrote about Ventura at The Weekly Standard more than a decade ago and described him in a nutshell: “A Playboy interview, appearances on late night television, two book deals, action figures, a million-dollar color commentary contract for the now defunct XFL—politics turned out to be a profitable venture for one James Janos of north Minneapolis. He ran for office on a lark, and lightning struck.”
Ventura campaigned as a Reform Party candidate and, instead of feeling the least bit marginalized by this, he used it to his advantage. Ads for his campaign urged citizens not to “vote for politics as usual.” For Minnesotans, this was enough, and he won by a small margin.
Ultimately Ventura was like a giant chocolate Easter bunny: all sweet promises, but hollow inside. As a candidate, Ventura vowed, “As governor, I will veto any new taxes and any increase in existing taxes. And I keep my word.” Yet less than four years later, “the governor proposed body-slamming Minnesota taxpayers to the tune of almost $2 billion in the next biennial budget.” After four years with Ventura at the helm, the annual general fund “ballooned 30 percent, to almost $14 billion.”
It isn’t hard to surmise what Trump would do if elected. No doubt he’d be all bark, no bite. Lewis’s observation of Ventura remains relevant today, when you consider it with Trump in mind: “Perhaps Jesse Ventura’s difficulty in matching his actions with his rhetoric is due to his background as an entertainer. Professional wrestling is built on illusion. Nothing is for real. One might say the same of Ronald Reagan’s pre-political career, but Reagan had one thing Ventura lacks: an ideology.”
Ventura didn’t have time to bleed. Trump doesn’t have time to garner an ideology. And we, the American people, don’t have time for either.