More than anything else, my first Republican National Convention reminded me of another type of event I’ve been to hundreds of times: professional wrestling. This is by no means exclusive to Republicans, as the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte will no doubt prove every bit as scripted and contrived as the GOP’s Tampa gathering. But I did not have a ringside seat for the DNC (which was fine with me). Still, throughout my Republican convention experience, I could not help but think — is this the RNC or WWE?
WrestleMania usually kicks off with a video montage glorifying what we’re about to see followed by the national anthem. Republican-mania was no different.Nominee Mitt Romney did not rip off his shirt to show us his 24-inch pythons nor did his tag team partner, Paul Ryan.But they did flex.They did preen.And I thought both, in their convention speeches, cut great promo interviews.The crowd ate it up.
Romney-mania ran wild.
The RNC spent the early part of the convention trying to change the delegate rules in a way that would completely disenfranchise grassroots activists and future anti-establishment candidates. The convention floor revolted.Conservative leader Morton Blackwell spoke out strongly against the rule changes and organized a hasty trip to Tampa to give the committee a piece of his mind. When Blackwell arrived in Tampa, his bus was forced to take a “detour” that many speculated was designed to prevent the influential conservative leader from showing up in time to thwart any rule changes. I believe this speculation was correct.I also note that you can see such behavior any given Monday night on “WWE Raw,” where the wrestling “commissioner” or “general manager” is beaten up, locked in a closet or detained in some entertainingly hokey fashion so that the bad guy wrestlers can have their way, undisturbed.
Seriously — how many times over the years has WWE head honcho Vince McMahon walked out during a match and changed the rules whimsically, something fans always get angry about but feel helpless to challenge? This is essentially what the RNC did — something Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin and others denounced loudly.
I heard more “U-S-A!” chants at the Republican convention than almost any wrestling event I’ve ever attended, and there weren’t even any Russian wrestlers around. I remember when McMahon’s WWE had serious competition from Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling in the 1990s and early 2000s. WWE officials would routinely take away fan signs at live events featuring anything related to WCW or its personalities. GOP convention attendees who thought about waving Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, or Ron Paul signs at the convention found out quickly that advertising Romney’s competitors was not to be permitted.
But the deepest and most significant way in which the Republican convention reminded me of wrestling was probably seen through the eyes of those who were not particularly as invested in the product as diehard fans. When a non-wrestling fan is taken to a live event, the first thing he notices is how phony it seems. “Stone Cold is not really hitting that guy,” he might remark. “The Rock doesn’t really hate John Cena,” he might say. But to diehard fans, these glaring realities don’t matter. They’re caught up in the moment. They’re more concerned about having fun than trying to make sense of it.
A casual observer of the Republican National Convention might notice that while Romney and Ryan say they want to turn around the economy and reduce the deficit, they don’t really explain how they will get there. A sober conservative might observe that both Romney and Ryan supported TARP, the bank bailouts, Bush-era statist expansions like Medicare Plan D, No Child Left Behind — the kind of big government the Tea Party now abhors.
An even keener observer might wonder what kind of math Romney is using. Romney accuses Obama of “gutting” the defense budget during a time when we spend more on our military than at any time in our history. Conservative Republicans from Sen. Tom Coburn to Rep. Mick Mulvaney now say we need less Pentagon spending. Some estimate Romney’s proposed defense increases alone will add $2.6 trillion to our debt. If our annual deficit is around $1.5 trillion, and Paul Ryan’s reasonable prescriptions to reform entitlements already seem too “extreme” to many, how would a Romney administration possibly balance the budget? I sincerely hope Romney can, but the numbers simply don’t add up.
Still, to Republican diehards, like wrestling fans, the reality is less important than emotion. Romney is Hulk Hogan and Obama is the Iron Sheik. Logic, shmogic — Obama is going down for the count, 1-2-3! Yeah, baby!
This is not to say that Obama doesn’t deserve to go down for the count, and come November, I hope he does. But who we replace him with needs to be something significantly better than what we have now. Based on what I saw at the 2012 Republican National Convention, I’m convinced that Obama’s potential replacement would only be marginally better. This is a shame. I’m also convinced that the greatest difference between wrestling fans and political fans is that most wrestling fans realize what they’re watching isn’t real.
Jack Hunter is the co-author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington by Sen. Rand Paul and was the official blogger for the Ron Paul 2012 presidential campaign.