World Wrestling Entertainment has given the American public a bonus this holiday season. In the history of our 21st century Asian wars, WWE’s annual Tribute to the Troops show, a Bob Hope-style fest of patriotic gore on NBC, has a longer shelf life than the average Fox News anchor. But this year WWE is also gifting us with the spectacle of its erstwhile CEO, Linda McMahon (the wife of Vince), as a viable candidate for the Republican nomination to unseat Democratic Senator Chris Dodd next year in Connecticut.
The 2010 Republican primary field has shaken out, and it’s down to McMahon and the frontrunner, former Congressman Rob Simmons. The polls don’t suggest any dramatic difference as to how either would stack up against Dodd, who is considered vulnerable.
McMahon originally was expected to spend about $30 million of her personal fortune on the campaign. At this point it’s looking more like $50 million. Shortly after the September announcement of her candidacy, she blanketed the state (and even the New York TV stations, which cover only a fraction of Connecticut) with a multimillion-dollar advertising blitz. Unlike Meg Whitman’s in California, Linda’s commercials tactfully refrained from naming the “publicly traded company” she had headed.
Last month a USA Today report on rich “self-funded” candidates had the mother-in-law of “Triple H” – philosopher-king of the group of wrestlers known as “Degeneration X” – at the top of the list: 99.9 percent of her existing $3.5 million war chest had come out of her own pocket.
So far Linda McMahon’s message to voters is a predictably mushy “outsider” trope as vague and old as the guy with the car-top megaphone in Robert Altman’s Nashville. This from the co-founder of a company whose charter board members include former Connecticut Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker.
But if the staying power of this somewhat bland corporate wife of a media exhibitionist surprises anyone, it shouldn’t. Linda is shaping up as Vince’s answer to Hillary Clinton. The histories of the two women’s marriages even share the same time-biding steeliness in the face of infidelity.
And so far the bumps in Linda’s political path have been equally predictable. They are also, most likely, far less important to the electorate than to the chattering class. After all, Connecticut is where, in the 19th century, P.T. Barnum served two terms in the state legislature and one as the mayor of Bridgeport.
(Whether Barnum actually said “There’s a sucker born every minute” is questionable. But another pertinent quote, by H.L. Mencken – “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard” – is, as they say in wrestling, a “shoot,” not a “work.”)
In one dead-end tableau, Linda’s political opponents rather ham-handedly tried to exploit the plethora of YouTube clips from WWE television skits with sexualized and gross-out motifs, including rape and necrophilia. WWE, always an aggressive defender of its intellectual property, got many of the clips taken down. Making mischief, the state Democratic party promptly filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission claiming that WWE was making illegal in-kind contributions to the McMahon campaign.
Still more risibly, Superstar Billy Graham, a former champion of WWE’s predecessor, the World Wide Wrestling Federation, denounced Linda’s candidacy in the Connecticut media. Graham, one of sports entertainment’s pioneering steroid abusers, has been crippled for years as a result, and he has also been in and out of favor with the McMahon family more times than Larry King has gotten married. In 2007, after wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his wife and their 7-year-old son before taking his own life, Graham told a cable news audience that he had never failed to accept complete personal responsibility for his own bad decisions – “except for one brief period when I filed a fictitious lawsuit against WWE.” With enemies like Graham, who needs friends?
Taking no chances, the Linda war room unleashed tag teams of spinmeisters to attack the credibility of this beloved carny. One was the selfsame Jerry McDevitt, WWE’s Pittsburgh-based lawyer and Washington lobbyist, who last year emailed legal threats to me about the blog running research for my Benoit book. Among other things, Chris and Nancy: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death (currently at a bookstore near you) reveals that WWE published two different timelines of what and when it knew about what Benoit had done prior to a three-hour memorial tribute show to him the same night on the USA cable network.
According to Sarah Palin, the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is “lipstick!” Then what does that make Linda McMahon, the first lady of pro wrestling moms?
Follow Irvin Muchnick, a regular Beyond Chron contributor, at http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com and http://twitter.com/irvmuch.