The GOP has a problem.
The WWE has a problem.
It’s the same problem.
With WrestleMania 32 taking place in Dallas in just a few weeks, the WWE finds itself in what has become familiar territory in recent years: Its biggest show is saddled with a card that isn’t to the liking of much of its fanbase.
Yet, WrestleManias 30 and 31 wound up being great. That turnaround owed to additions and alterations with just days to go before the event. In the case of last year’s show, the WWE Championship bout actually changed during the match, via a Money in the Bank cash-in by Seth Rollins.
Things are far worse this year. Thanks to a variety of injuries, several pivotal top-of-the-card and mid-card performers are gone. The list includes Rollins, John Cena, Randy Orton, Cesaro, and the now-retired Daniel Bryan, to name a few.
On top of that, storylines have become more convoluted and fleeting than usual, which is saying something. The primary problem is that the WWE has spent the better part of two years trying to get fans to back Roman Reigns—once popular as a member of the heel faction The Shield, but now getting a decidedly mixed reaction as the company tries to push him as the top babyface in WWE. Flinging whatever else it can at the wall hasn’t helped the flailing WWE get much to stick.
Meanwhile, with a presidential election looming this fall, the intermittently dysfunctional Republican Party finds itself in what has become familiar territory in recent years: Nominating a presidential candidate who may be a decided underdog in the general election.
2008 and 2012 wound up featuring moderate (but not really) GOP candidates. Although a portion of those claiming to be hard-core conservatives were not pleased with John McCain and Mitt Romney, those men nevertheless prevailed in relatively clear-cut primary races, winning 37 and 42 contests, respectively. But they both lost the race for the White House.
Things are far worse this year. Initial support in the GOP race fractured under the weight of an unusually “deep bench” of candidates. The list includes Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and the now-departed Jeb Bush, to name a few. At the same time, a dedicated and angry portion of the electorate coalesced behind unlikely front-runner Donald Trump, while a massive amount of free media coverage for Trump strengthened his support greatly.
On top of that, Republicans have become more frustrated than usual as the flailing GOP tries desperately to get voters interested in anyone else. Despite Donald Trump divorcing himself from the truth as if it were a European model poised to celebrate her 50th birthday, he has suffered no ill effects from exaggerations and outright lies.
Misinformation, boorish comments, and gaffes that would have destroyed the candidacy of nearly anyone else have done only superficial damage to the nearly impervious Trump.
Remember when Rick Perry couldn’t run for president anymore because he blanked on one of the federal agencies he wanted to eliminate during a debate?
Donald Trump openly called for the commission of war crimes at his direction, and it made no real difference.
Passionate, ideologically “pure” segments of supporters have helped create the dilemmas in which both the WWE and GOP now find themselves. These self-anointed purists believe entrenched elements of the very organizations they ostensibly love are incompetent, if not evil.
Whether it’s the (somewhat nebulous) “establishment” of the GOP or the inner circle of WWE’s creative team, dissatisfaction among certain dedicated fans has led to anger and backlash.
To a limited extent, both groups are right. The WWE’s booking-by-committee approach and three-hour flagship show are not conducive to creating consistently compelling storylines when injuries blow holes in the talent roster.
On the GOP side, an ineffective party chair and the perception that “Washington is always bad” and “all politicians are the same” has led to the rise of wild-card outsiders.
While there’s a kernel of truth in their complaints, the zealots are also often irrational.
Many of the wrestling zealots believes themselves to understand the wrestling business far better than the man who is unquestionably the most successful creative force in the history of the industry. This is true even to the point where they will sometimes reject a previously popular wrestler once he starts getting the strong support of WWE’s top decisionmakers. There is such a powerful undercurrent of this feeling among dedicated wrestling fans that the company has attempted to leverage it, building many of the key storylines of the last few years around a corrupt “Authority” that couches all of its evil decisions as being “best for business.”
Compared to the GOP’s zealots, though, the WWE’s seem to be much more sane.
GOP’s version of zealotry clamors for conservatism, but embraces a guy who’s been a Republican for five minutes and holds some decidedly non-conservative views. The zealots are also oblivious to the self-defeating mentality of “anti-establishmentism.”
Leaving aside the fact that the definition of the “establishment” seems to change from moment to moment, the anti-establishment philosophy taken to the extreme inevitably weeds out people who can consistently win elections.
Much like a wrestler who gets a big push suddenly falling out of favor with certain fans, once a former outsider darling has a few years of office (and maybe—*gasp*—a compromise or two) under his belt, he suddenly becomes part of the so-called “establishment.”
I think “Establishment” is now a non-specific boogeyman that angry GOP voters use in the same way that Bernie Sanders uses “Wall Street” or “the corporations.”
Put simply, the point at which Eric Cantor is a “RINO” and Marco Rubio is an “establishment darling” is the point where these terms have lost whatever meaning they once had.
There are differences between the GOP and WWE’s fan-critics, however: The Trump wing of the party is disproportionately low-information and poorly educated. The disgruntled wing of the WWE Universe is high-information (at least when it comes to sports entertainment) compared to the fanbase as a whole.
The WWE folks also ultimately want to see the WWE succeed, whereas the GOP extremists are quasi-nihilists who would be more than happy to burn the party to the ground if necessary.
Among those who want positive outcomes, observers of both the Republican Party and Vince McMahon’s company have been forced to turn on a dime as fortunes have risen and fallen over a matter of hours—if not minutes.
Marco Rubio can beat Trump! Yay! Oh, wait. You’re saying he has to drop out now? Ok. Hold on—this new poll says everyone is within the margin of error. New ballgame! Uh-oh. Cruz had a good night, and he’s our only hope? I’m exhausted. Better turn on RAW.
WOW! Shane McMahon is back! The
deus ex machina prodigal son has returned! Uh . . . what’s this about a lock box? This is kind of weird. But, still—Shane-O-Mac!!! Ok, he’s fighting who now? Undertaker? At WrestleMania??? In Hell in a Cell?!?!? Sigh.
Both the GOP and WWE are at a similar crossroads. As such, there are similar contingency plans.
For the WWE, the breaking point will be tomorrow night, at a “surprise” pay-per-view-style event called Roadblock. There, a lot of the matches we thought we might get at WrestleMania are taking place, such as Dean Ambrose vs. HHH for the WWE Title and the aforementioned Wyatt-Lesnar match.
This will be the last real opportunity for the WWE to shuffle the proverbial deck in a way that seems organic and maintains whatever semblance of narrative integrity the company has left as far as WrestleMania goes. Either the WWE will scramble the WM card, or it will simply tease that possibility while maintaining the as-advertised status quo.
Personally, as someone who (foolishly?) made the decision to buy tickets to WrestleMania for the first time ever this year, I’m hoping the main event will evolve into a blockbuster title match featuring HHH, Reigns, Ambrose, Brock Lesnar, Bray Wyatt, and surprise returning guy X. I’d predict that it might mark the return of the Elimination Chamber, but I’m not sure they can physically put both the Chamber and the Cell above the ring at the same show, Jerryworld or not.
Either way, the WWE can’t simply plow forward with the card they have now.
For the GOP, the breaking point could come next Tuesday, when a host of important primaries take place. None are more important than winner-take-all Florida, where the flagging Marco Rubio is the only candidate who has a chance of blocking Trump from picking up 99 crucial delegates.
If it doesn’t happen then, the GOP’s version of “Roadblock” will be the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer. If Trump doesn’t reach the necessary number of delegates to clinch the nomination outright, just about anything is possible, including a backroom deal to put someone on the ballot who isn’t even running at the moment.
Rick Perry. Mitt Romney. Paul Ryan. Who knows? If the convention winds up brokered, there would be few rules in play that would prevent just about any scenario. I think the reason that won’t happen is that even the GOP leadership must realize that Trump’s people won’t turn out in November if they think he’s been cheated out of the nomination in July.
However, if any candidate is even close to Trump, and Trump doesn’t have the magic number, they can probably get away with it.
There’s one last difference of which I’ve only recently become aware—probably around the time I was frantically refreshing my browser to get the latest Idaho primary results sometime late last Tuesday night.
As the possibility of a Trump candidacy (or the GOP’s implosion) became more concrete, politics became more interesting. I’ve found myself engaged in the horse-race aspects of politics more now than at any point since I was a teenager.
Conversely, as we get closer to WrestleMania, frustration doesn’t inspire interest. Quite the opposite. I realized that sometime around 10:00 on Monday, when I passed on the third hour of RAW to watch Better Call Saul.
People—myself included—are checking out. Even Vince McMahon seems to have adopted a “wait ’til next year!” posture in the weeks leading up to this year’s show.
The good news for the WWE is that, even if WrestleMania is mediocre, they’ll move on quickly. Before we know it, SummerSlam will roll around, followed surprisingly swiftly by WrestleMania 33. Within a year, all (well, most) will be forgiven or forgotten.
The Republican Party won’t be so lucky.