Jesse Ventura, Donald Trump, and Populist Politics



Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura speaks to the media in St. Paul on November 4, 2002.

(Eric Miller / Reuters)

My Impromptus today begins with a discussion of manliness, which is a question that keeps coming up, especially on the right: What is manliness, or manhood? What is a real man? Is there a difference between machismo and manliness? Do you buy the “alpha”/“beta” stuff? Etc., etc.

One could write a book, and Harvey Mansfield, superbly, has. (Actually, the best book about manhood is the Bible, but that’s another post or two . . .)

Over my column is an absolutely delightful photo of Hulk Hogan (with a young female fan, imitating his flexing). Above this here Corner post is a photo of another pro wrestler, Jesse “The Body” Ventura — who, in 1998, got elected governor of Minnesota. He was a precursor of Trump — a harbinger of the explosive populist politics to come.

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Remember that Trump mixed it up in professional wrestling. Here he is at WrestleMania in 2007. He would ride something like this act all the way to the White House — one of the most incredible stories in American history.

Let me give you a memory of 1999, please, when Governor George W. Bush of Texas was starting his run for president. I interviewed his foreign-policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, late of the Bush administration, which is to say, the administration that would become known as the “Bush 41” administration. I questioned her about the governor’s foreign-policy credentials. He was a neophyte, right? Rice countered that he was the governor of a border state. “So is Jesse Ventura,” I cracked. She narrowed her eyes, memorably, and said, “You know what I mean.”

Before I leave, I must say a further word about Hulk — Hulk Hogan. For a while, he was a neighbor of my friend — and National Review’s friend — Martha Apgar, about whom I wrote here. She said that Hulk was a wonderful neighbor, a peach of a guy. FWIW.


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