by Keaton Weiss
Rumblings have been afoot in recent days that Jesse Ventura, former radio host, Navy SEAL, pro wrestler, sports commentator, and governor of Minnesota, is considering a run for the presidency. This is hardly the first time he’s sparked such rumors. In 2016, he told The Daily Beast that he would run as a Libertarian if Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic primary. He obviously reneged on that commitment, and so there’s no reason to be too excited just yet. This morning (April 27), however, Ventura validated such speculation about a potential 2020 run by tweeting that he was “testing the waters,” and that the Green Party would be his first choice should he ultimately decide to do it. Smart money says he won’t – but he should.
Ventura has railed against Democrats and Republicans, who he’s branded “gangs in government,” for decades. Though he spoke favorably of Bernie’s 2016 candidacy, he declined to formally endorse him on the grounds that Sanders intended to fall in line behind Hillary Clinton if and when he lost the primary. He’s also one of the few critics of the two party duopoly who’s actually managed to defeat it electorally. He won Minnesota’s 1998 gubernatorial race against Republican Norm Coleman, mayor of the state’s capital city, and Democratic state attorney general Hubert Humphrey III, who, as his name suggests, is practically Minnesota royalty. Ventura accomplished this feat as an independent who spent a mere $250,000 on his campaign, compared to his opponents’ combined total of $4.3 million.
As far as 2020 is concerned, he’s asserted his position that “we must, this election, elect an independent.” He also admitted to having asked himself “if not [me], who?” That’s a good question. Because what Jesse Ventura has that is essential to the success of any third party effort, be it an established party or a new one altogether, is star power. Ventura’s celebrity status, combined with his wildly colorful personality, would guarantee him more media coverage than Jill Stein or Howie Hawkins could ever dream of. That alone, at the very least, would make him well-positioned to achieve the long elusive goal of getting the Green Party to 5% in the final vote tally, the threshold required to secure federal funding and nationwide ballot access. And there’s a good chance that would be the least of his accomplishments.
Ventura became governor of Minnesota as a Reform Party candidate. He then mulled a 2016 presidential run as a Libertarian. This time he’s considering running as a Green. See a pattern? No you don’t, and that’s the point. His political profile is eclectic in a way that makes him uniquely suited for success as an independent candidate. He’s against big government and big pharma. He supports both the second amendment and universal healthcare. He’s a wrestler who admires Muhammad Ali both for his prowess as a fighter and for his refusal to fight in Vietnam. He’s a proud military man who’s unafraid to call out the military industrial complex, frequently quoting General Smedley Butler’s “War is a Racket” speech. He’s not at all what you’d call “politically correct,” but he also refused to call the Washington football team by their name, the “Redskins,” during his tenure as a sports commentator, because of its racist overtones. He’s impossible to define in conventional political terms, which makes it easy for him to define himself – a requirement for any successful candidate, especially an outsider with no institutional support.
Also, for all of his eccentricities, Jesse Ventura actually has quite the impressive resume. He has executive experience, both as a mayor and a governor. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Navy and earned the Vietnam Service Medal as well as the National Defense Service Medal. He’s a published author with ten books to his name on topics ranging from foreign policy to drug policy. And, of course, he taught at Harvard!
Finally, and most importantly, Jesse Ventura’s appeal amounts to more than the sum of its parts. At his essence, he’s completely credible as both an unabashed radical dissident and an unimpeachable American patriot. Dissenting voices such as his are often easily marginalized by mainstream mouthpieces who brand them as foreign, in spirit if not in substance, to the American way of life. Ventura cannot be undermined in this way. He speaks of his military experience in a way that’s sure to make fellow veterans feel as though they’re hanging out with him at their local VFW hall. He could sit beside you and talk your ear off about his time as an underwater demolitions expert while equally convincingly donning one of his many tie dye Jimi Hendrix tees. He’s the rare, perhaps singular, politician who can awaken the sleeping giant of radical, post-partisan populism while actually unifying the country, not by sidestepping the culture war, but rather by embracing both sides of it as a pot-smoking peacenik who knows how to fire a machine gun and blow things up.
Now of course, Ventura isn’t perfect – not for the left, or anyone else for that matter. A candidate so unique is virtually certain to be no one’s ideal choice for president. But his presence in the race would make voters compromise in ways we ought to be open to in the first place. His personal and political profiles represent a synthesis of the hippie and hard hat ethos, two social forces whose conflict has roiled our body politic for generations. Support for his campaign would require compromise from both camps; a cultural reconciliation in service of a genuine populist political project.
In a year when our two major party nominees are a grease-painted neo-fascist con man and a cognitively impaired front man for a cabal of neoliberal elites who don’t even bother to feign concern for the working class American majority, how can we not at least entertain the idea of a President Jesse “The Body” Ventura? His candidacy would be an experiment worth running no matter the outcome, and in times like these, it’s an idea so crazy it might actually work.
*Photo: Business Insider, YouTube