Updated on March 15, 2016
Even this deep into the primaries, has anyone gotten Donald Trump quite right? The comparisons to fascist ideologues don’t quite work because of his reputation for disingenuousness. The impulse to dismiss him as pure “entertainment” or to discount his chances doesn’t quite work, either, because of the real, tangible current of American sentiment that supports him.
But maybe commentators are just looking for answers in the wrong places. Perhaps no good historical political analogy to Trump exists. The key to understanding Trump, instead, could be the dirty, violent, machismo-laden world of his business past. Not real estate or reality TV—but professional wrestling. Really.
Many other commentators, including my colleague James Fallows have noted Trump’s history with wrestling and drawn parallels between it and his political career. But that history seems even more salient now that violence has become such an important issue on the trail. Trump’s involvement with wrestling dates back 27 years, when World Wrestling Entertainment was still the World Wrestling Federation, and his casino helped bring its flagship pay-per-view event WrestleMania IV to New Jersey. His subsequent involvement in wrestling and his friendship with the WWE boss and fellow billionaire Vince McMahon have been well chronicled, but Trump’s true moment in the spotlight—and in the ring—came during the 2007 “Battle of the Billionaires” story arc, in which he actually played the good guy “babyface” (or “face”) counterpart to McMahon’s “heel,” or villain. In wrestling, most heels are incorrigible self-promoting jerks who often use below-the-belt moves and taunts. Babyfaces tend to be All-American types that play it straight.