Donald Trump was in the arena, shooting his mouth off and inciting violence. But despite what it sounds like, this wasn’t a campaign rally.
He wasn’t a candidate at all.
It was 2007, nine years before he would seek the White House, and Trump was sadistically shaving a man’s head at WrestleMania XXIII.
“How you doin’ man, how you doin?” he asked his victim, who was strapped down in a chair. He took an electric razor and dramatically lifted it up into the air as the crowd cheered.
After 10 months, it’s now trite to say Trump’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination is like any of the following: a circus, a reality TV show, a monster truck rally, an Andy Kaufman bit, and, yes, pro wrestling.
The reality of the day-to-day of Trump’s campaign is so absurd that to attempt to send it up with metaphor is actually a disservice. Just describing real life now has flair enough.
Last week, for instance, Trump mixed up 9/11, the deadly terror attack on American soil on September 11, 2001, with 7/11, the convenience store that sells Slurpees.
But the pro-wrestling comparison—which has garnered its fair share of attention since Trump’s June 16 announcement—is newly relevant ahead of Tuesday’s insufferably labeled “Acela corridor primary.”
Connecticut, where Trump leads the polls by 26 points, according to the Real Clear Politics average, is home to World Wrestling Entertainment, owned by Vince McMahon, the man whose head Trump gleefully sprayed with shaving cream and took a razor to after shearing it. McMahon and his wife and WWE partner, Linda McMahon, are both longtime friends of Trump and heavyweight Republican donors—but curiously, they haven’t opted to support him.
After Linda ran for the United States Senate, unsuccessfully, in 2010 and 2012, endeavors they spent $100 million on, the couple directed their efforts to funneling money to their other political cause: The Republican Party.
They went from spending roughly $30,000 on Republican causes in 2006 and 2008, according to Politico, to over $1 million in the first few months of 2014 alone. Before he dropped out of the race and endorsed The Donald in February, she had campaigned for Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey.
The McMahons have donated $5 million to Trump’s questionably charitable foundation from 2009 to 2014, but, despite their personal relationship with Trump, they have stopped short of supporting his political campaign.
Vince declined an interview request from The Daily Beast and Linda did not reply when asked to participate.
But in an interview with Yahoo in March, Linda, when pushed by Katie Couric, said she believed Trump was qualified for the job.
“I think that he will hire good people for advice,” she said, “and I think that’s really important. That’s what a really good CEO does.”
And Sunday, on Fox Business, she echoed a Trump talking point when she described Ted Cruz and John Kasich banding together to take down Trump as “collusion.”
McMahon said she knew he was capable of surrounding himself with the right operatives because she’d experienced it first hand.
She and her husband met Trump in 1988, when they brought WrestleMania IV to Atlantic City, where the real estate mogul was in the beginning stages of building his own personal Vegas (it never really panned out).
The Trump Plaza (now-shuttered) had opened just a few years before, in 1984. According to a Newsday report at the time, “sources” said Trump paid $1 million to host the event. “Everybody in the country wanted this event,” Trump said at the time, according to Rolling Stone, “and we were able to get it.”
It was the beginning of a long friendship and partnership with the couple. And the only difference between the 2016 campaign and WrestleMania, Linda said to Couric, is the WWE is “written and scripted to go a certain direction. This time we really don’t have any control…it is bizarre, and it shouldn’t be. We’re better than that.”
Trump would appear at WrestleManias throughout the years. In 2004, at WrestleMania XX, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, the conspiracy theorist and former wrestler who was governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003, interviewed Trump beside the ring.
“What does WrestleMania mean to a man like you?” Ventura asked him.
“Well, it means a lot,” Trump said. Ventura asked if Trump would morally and financially support him if he ran for office again.
“One hundred percent,” Trump replied. “You know that, one hundred percent.”
Ventura turned and told the crowd, “You know what? I think that we may need a wrestler in the White House in 2008!”
Trump’s expected win in Connecticut is all the more fascinating when you consider that Linda McMahon may have lost her Senate bids because of the wrestling business.
McMahon’s Democratic rivals used WWE footage against her in 2010. When wrestling videos were uncovered, on YouTube, that showed “what appeared to be public sex in a wrestling ring,” according to The Hartford Courant, “and simulated rape,” the Connecticut Democratic Party pounced, accusing McMahon of complicity.
“As WWE chief operating officer, Linda McMahon presided over programming that showed simulated rape, public sex, and necrophilia, and now she wants to be our U.S. Senator?” a spokeswoman for the Democrats said at the time. “This kind of programming has no place in our society, and Linda McMahon has no place in the U.S. Senate.”
According to the Connecticut Post, a 2012 Quinnipiac poll found that although likely voters in the state preferred people with business backgrounds, 59 percent of them had “a very to somewhat negative” opinion of pro wrestling.
Voters, apparently, no longer feel that way. Or perhaps they only like a candidate who takes pro-wrestling out of the ring and onto the national political stage.
They called the 2007 event “Hair vs Hair,” and “The Battle of the Billionaires.”
It was a scripted duel between Trump and McMahon that was to culminate in the ring, with each billionaire sponsoring a fighter to represent him. Whomever won would get to shave the hair of the loser, a built-in spoiler alert that Trump would be the winner.
The entire setup seemed designed to flatter Trump’s ego.
Six years later, in 2013, Trump was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, a place which exists only in theory, with no physical location. “The thing that, I guess, we’re known for is Battle of the Billionaires,” Trump said onstage, wearing a tux, “and to this day, it has the highest ratings, the highest pay-per-view, in the history of wrestling of any kind.”
McMahon played the underdog who just couldn’t seem to outrun or outsmart the genius billionaire Trump no matter how hard he tried. A feature of the narrative was that Trump was so much richer than McMahon. He often humiliated McMahon by pointing it out. At one point, during a Raw program that aired before the main event, Trump unleashed money from the ceiling, prompting McMahon to shout, “Donald Trump, you son of a bitch!”