Weighing up the pros and cons of a Presidential bid
What seemed like a bit of a laugh has now become a distinct possibility: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson looks like he’s entering the political ring. His presidential bid for 2020, initially a joke and a source of speculation in the press, became official last week (July 12) when a freelance writer (not me) submitted paperwork with the Federal Election Committee.
The campaign describes itself as “a grassroots movement to send the People’s Champion to the White House in 2020. #MakeAmericaRockAgain.” It clarifies: “I don’t have any relationship with Dwayne Johnson. The amazing enthusiasm and energy on the ground for Mr. Johnson prompted me to create the organization. The hope is that Mr. Johnson will see how much America desires the real leadership only he can provide and jumps in the race.” So while this potential President doesn’t have one foot in the White House, he also hasn’t exactly distanced himself from the 2020 hype.
Speaking to GQ earlier this year, he described a presidential bid as “a real possibility,” diplomatically adding: “I’d like to see a better leadership. I’d like to see a greater leadership.” He then toyed with the idea in an interview with Jimmy Fallon, cautiously saying: “Three-and-a-half years is a long ways away.” It’s not hard to read between the lines. None of this is saying, “Absolutely Not. Never. Nope.” He’s addressing the issue like someone who wouldn’t rule out stealing one of your chips.
A poll published by Public Policy Polling puts Johnson 42/37 ahead of Trump “in a prospective contest.” Some bookies are offering odds of 16/1 on him becoming the next US President, placing him ahead of established senators and just below Michelle Obama. Is this actually happening? Has celebrity culture not already done enough damage by giving a dubious businessman turned reality show star the nuclear codes? We weigh up the fors and againsts:
Is Dwayne Johnson really running for President?
Look at this. Watch very closely. Examine every single second and then try and say this man doesn’t think he can be President.
Just look at how he addresses the audience. He doesn’t even acknowledge Fallon, to begin with. Normal People come first. He’s made that clear.
Then Fallon pops the President question. “That story is still running,” Johnson says, raising his eyebrows and puffing out his cheeks, like he doesn’t have the power to kill that story dead before it gets ahead of steam. He talks about the “surge and the groundswell” of support, as if he’s already established a grassroots organisation. “A lot of people want to see a better leadership today,” he says. “More poise. Less noise.” Fucking hell. An actual slogan. Already. “And over the years I’ve become someone a lot of people relate to,” he adds, neglecting to mention his $190 million net worth. “And spend time with the troops.” Ah yes, casual troops mention. “I love taking care of people. That kind of thing really resonates with people, especially today.”
If Presidential alarm bells weren’t ringing before, they exploded after this.
Why he should be President
Dwayne Johnson is not technically qualified to become President. But then neither was Donald J. Trump. Neither is Kanye West, who’s also touted a 2020 or 2024 bid. Nor is Mark Zuckerberg, whose success in connecting people via Facebook has convinced him he’s going to cure all global tensions. And the same goes for Oprah Winfrey, who first thought she didn’t have the experience, but is now entertaining the idea.
These days, a President doesn’t need to have spent decades learning their trade, building expertise and spreading good. Hilary Clinton learnt this the hard way. Instead, qualifications come second to someone who seems like they understand the average Joe. Trump tapped into this. And Johnson clearly thinks he can do the same. He was raised in a poor family, and cites being evicted from a one-room apartment as his main source of motivation for an aspirational life. Johnson’s ‘started from the bottom’ appeal works in his favour.
The biggest strength and weakness of any potential campaign is Johnson’s lack of party affiliation. He could run as an independent. He’s attended both Republication and Democrat conventions. As a Republican, he’d be able to appeal to mixed race voters. As a Democrat, he might be a reasonable voice in partisan squabbles. All hypothetical, but has this on his side.
Why he absolutely should not be President
Addressing the elephant in the room, Dwayne Johnson stands for nothing, as far as we know. He loves the troops. He likes “taking care of people.” But he hasn’t given an outright opinion on nuclear weapons, ISIS, North Korea, healthcare, or indeed Trump.
This is obviously part of his own political bargaining. He’s keeping cards close to his chest. But it seems iffy that a potential candidate can fire up so much initial support – a GQ cover, a primetime TV interview – without standing for anything. That’s the power of celebrity, and it’s partly the fault of the media for not pressing him on important topics, but anyone giving this much credence to the idea of becoming President, without establishing what kind of platform they’d be running on, should be treated with suspicion. Yes, he was an awesome wrestler. Yes, he makes any blockbuster a smash hit. Yes, he gives great hugs. But that doesn’t make him a leader-in-waiting.
Has a potential candidate ever gotten so far on nothing but charisma? Even before anyone took Trump’s candidacy seriously, he was questioning Barack Obama’s birth certificate, a prototype of the hate-spreader he’d soon become. But at this stage – and consider it’s less than two years before we’ll know the majority of 2020 candidates – Johnson is letting Presidential question simmer without giving anything away. He wants to be a calm leader, “more poise, less noise,” but what exactly does that leadership involve? If he’s to be taken seriously as a candidate, he needs to put forward those views ASAP.