AUTHOR’S NOTE: This blog post contains some terms that are used by professional wrestling insiders, such as heel, face, shoot, kayfabe, and stable, that are not used in a normal context. A glossary of professional wrestling terms is available here.
The sudden fall of Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s presidential campaign has caught me, and many other political observers, by surprise. Since not long after Walker survived a recall attempt against him (full disclosure: I was a vocal recall supporter from a neighboring state) in 2012, I pretty much assumed that Walker was going to win next year’s Republican presidential nomination in a cakewalk and be a formidable general election opponent to whoever Democrats nominate. However, in recent polling, Walker has only been polling at a few percentage points in Iowa, where Walker lived part of his childhood.
Molly Ball of The Atlantic magazine has a great piece about Walker’s floundering campaign here. Normally, I would link to Ball’s piece on Twitter and say that anything else I could add is redundant, but I do have something to add. The fall of Scott Walker’s presidential campaign, and possibly the beginning of the end of Walker’s political career, seems eerily reminiscent of the fall of the scripted professional wrestling promotion World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. What I’m about to write is, in professional wrestling vernacular, called a “shoot”, or something (in this case, a blog post) that is unscripted and not part of “kayfabe”, which is the presentation of storylines and matches in a professional wrestling promotion as being real, when, in reality, they’re scripted.
While WCW being in deep debt by early 2001 and AOL Time Warner (now called Time Warner), which was WCW’s parent company in its last years, no longer being interested in professional wrestling actually brought WCW down, WCW lost its way, and much of its audience, in the late 1990’s for a number of reasons:
- WCW was essentially caught flat-footed by a World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now called World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE) that began using their adult-oriented “attitude” programming style to boost TV ratings for its flagship weekly program, Raw.
- WCW began rehashing the New World Order (nWo) stable and storyline, which worked very well for WCW for a couple of years in the mid-to-late 1990’s, in a number of different iterations to the point of being repetitive.
- WCW began alienating its traditional fan base in the southeastern part of the country. In one notable instance, a storyline in which the West Texas Rednecks, a group of wrestlers (stable) with a country music-themed gimmick, were supposed to be the antagonists (heels) to a protagonist (face) stable called the No Limit Soldiers, which was led by rapper Percy “Master P” Miller. However, the storyline backfired on WCW after their fans cheered the Rednecks and booed the Soldiers.
- On one 1999 episode of WCW’s flagship weekly program, Nitro, WCW announcer Tony Schiavone (under orders from WCW executive Eric Bischoff) gave away the result of a WWF Championship match that aired on a tape-delayed episode of Raw (Mick “Mankind” Foley defeated Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to win the title) on Nitro, which caused many Nitro viewers to tune into Raw in order to see the WWF title match. The Nitro main event that night featured the infamous “fingerpoke of doom”, in which Kevin Nash deliberately laid down after Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea poked Nash in the chest with his finger, and Nash allowed Hogan to pin him and take the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. This is often cited as the beginning of the end of WCW, which folded in 2001.
There are some interesting correlations between what led to the fall of WCW and what has led to Walker’s fall in the Republican presidential caucus/primary polls:
- Walker (and a lot of other Republican presidential candidates) have been caught flat-footed by the Donald Trump presidential campaign, which has used overt racism and other forms of bigotry to appeal to many of the same racist, far-right voters that Walker would need to win the Republican nomination. Trump’s campaign is, in this regard, analogous to the late 1990’s/early 2000’s edgy programming of the WWF (now WWE).
- Walker has rehashed his infamous 2011 fight against Wisconsin labor unions repeatedly as a presidential candidate to the point of being repetitive. Walker’s campaign message is, in this regard, analogous to the late 1990’s/early 2000’s WCW rehashing the nWo stable and storyline under various iterations to the point of being repetitive.
- Walker has dodged questions on, refused to take a stand on, and/or flip-flopped on a number of issues, most notably immigration. This has alienated many conservatives from Walker’s campaign and is somewhat analogous to the late 1990’s/early 2000’s WCW using storylines and gimmicks that their fans did not like or respond in the way that WCW wanted.
- In a desperate attempt to pander to Trump’s far-right supporters, Walker tried to tack to Trump’s right on immigration by suggesting building a border fence along the U.S.-Canada border. This was quickly viewed as desperate pandering to Trump’s supporters on Walker’s part, and is somewhat analogous to the “fingerpoke of doom” that led to WCW’s demise.
With increasing evidence that Scott Walker’s presidential campaign is tanking (such as recent polls showing low support for Walker within his own party and Walker cancelling a scheduled appearance at the California state Republican convention), Walker has become the WCW of presidential politics.