Dwayne Johnson, the former WWE superstar known as “The Rock,” should run for president of the United States of America.
A few years ago, no one would have guessed a reality-TV tabloid star like The Donald could become the ruler of the free world. So why not professional wrestler The Rock? He’s a successful businessperson who knows how to speak to the masses. He’s the literal embodiment of hard work. He knows how to negotiate. He’s approachable yet strong (real strong). He’s the everyman for every man and woman who aspires to make something of themselves through sheer grit and motivation—and make money while doing it.
Beloved by the left and right alike, the world’s highest-paid actor could accomplish something no leader has managed in decades: lay the smackdown on petty partisan politics and get Washington back to governing. And he’s been dropping hints for years.
2020: Let’s get ready to rumble?
Trump’s unlikely victory has reset expectations about who can credibly stand as a candidate in a national election. Several public figures from outside the realm of politics—such as Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerberg, and Oprah—are also rumored to be considering a 2020 run. So why not The Rock?
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Johnson said in an interview with GQ that “I haven’t ruled politics out…it would be an opportunity to make a real impact on people’s lives on a global scale. But there are a lot of other things I want to do first.” Almost a year later, he coyly acknowledged the possibility again in an SNL skit: “In the past, I never would’ve considered running for president,” he said. “I didn’t think I was qualified at all, but now I’m worried I’m too qualified.”
This could all be in good fun—or it could be a trial balloon.
But which side would he play for? It doesn’t matter. He’s so likable that either side would likely claim him for their own. Johnson has appeared in a get-out-the-vote capacity at the national conventions of both the Republican and Democratic parties, even speaking at the 2000 RNC. Though he has been a registered Republican, today he claims to be an independent.
Whether through a major party nomination or a viable third-party bid, he’d bring international star power, serious charisma, and plenty of practice to the spectacle of a presidential campaign. And what better candidate to one-up the pomp and drama of 2016’s primaries than a 17-time WWE champion?
… but could he win?
The idea of a professional wrestler becoming commander-in-chief should no longer raise eyebrows. Long before Donald Trump, the successful gubernatorial candidacies of Arnold Schwarzenegger (in California) and Jesse Ventura (in Minnesota) proved that these kinds of cultural figures can bypass partisan politics and build constituencies that draw from both sides of the ring. Johnson’s even better positioned to make this pivot than most.
After all, he’s the highest paid actor in Hollywood, in part because he’s the rare “superfecta of action stars [who hits] on all four quadrants worshipped by movie studios: old men, young men, old women, and young women,” said NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer. Moreover, with African-Canadian and Samoan ancestry, he’s got an ambiguously multicultural appeal. As Johnson put it to president Obama with a wink: “We’re both charismatic, intelligent, good lookin’ boys from Hawaii with a bi-racial heritage who overcame enormous odds. One of us captured the imagination of millions of people around the world and became an American symbol of pride and hope…the other became the president of the United States.”
Johnson has killed enough bad guys on film to appeal to the NRA crowd, and you wouldn’t be surprised if he took on terrorism with his own hands. But he’s not just a tough-guy action star. Whether in the lead role of a summer blockbuster like the Fast & Furious 7 or a Disney family film like Moana, he’s relatable. You want Dwayne Johnson to be your friend. You want him to wingman your wedding. You want to share a beer (or three) with him. He’s such an appealing crossover figure that he stars in Siri ads for the hyper-brand-conscious Apple.
In May, Public Policy Polling tested various potential candidates against Trump in 2020. They considered Johnson’s prospects if he were to run for president as a Democrat. According to the poll, Johnson would lead Trump 42% to 37% in a prospective contest, converting over 15% of people who supported Trump in the last election. They also found he appeals to both Democrats (with 38% of respondents positive, 47% not sure) and Republicans (with 31% of respondents positive, 52% not sure). That’s a strong starting position with lots of room to win over converts.
And he’s already won millions. In Johnson’s WWF days, he was a megastar with many of Trump’s key demographics; in his speech at the 2000 RNC, he approximated that there were 14 million eligible voters who watched him each week alone. For over a decade, he electrified primetime television audiences in rural America with the stage name “The People’s Champion,” which was bestowed by Mohamed Ali, the original People’s Champion. The moment he officially enters the ring as a presidential candidate, many of Trump’s voters will sit up and take notice. At worst, it’ll be a diversion tactic. At best, he’ll put the competition in a headlock.
What kind of president would The Rock be?
Running a country is hard work. And if anyone is suited for this job, it’s the hardest-working man in show business. A GQ cover story put it this way: “No one gets up earlier than Dwayne Johnson. Or goes to bed later. Or is more awake during the hours in between. No one in Hollywood is more buff, more driven, or gets paid better. The man has so much charisma and ambition he can do anything.” Even run for office.
But winning isn’t everything. Character matters, too. The Trump victory is illustrative of this fact: Even with a full Republican legislative majority, Washington is more stalled and broken than ever.
What America needs is a leader with a broad popular mandate who can effectively put a “modern presidential” style to work and solve problems. To that end, Johnson has the qualities needed not only to win a mandate, but also govern effectively:
- He’s a successful entrepreneur with executive experience. The modern presidency is a much different job that the presidency of the 18th and 19th centuries. It requires attracting quality people from the public and private sectors, building high-performing teams, and speaking directly to the nation through mass media. Whether partnering with Apple or Under Armor, Johnson shows incredible business savvy and a mastery of communications and personal branding. At 45 years old, he’s been a New York Times best-selling author, star of an HBO series, named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2016, and deemed “Man of the Century” by Muscle & Fitness. Through his production company, Seven Bucks, he’s built up partnerships across multiple entertainment verticals and amassed a net worth around $200 million. This is a person who would be very capable of running affairs from the Oval Office.
- He’s an exceptional communicator. From his pay-TV wrestling days to becoming the highest paid actor in Hollywood—not to mention his Instagram feed, where he speaks to 92 million followers every day—Johnson knows how to connect intimately with an audience in the hundreds of millions. FDR had his Fireside Chats. Donald Trump has @realDonaldTrump. But Johnson would be a telegenic, multi-channel statesman like the country has never seen. Imagine him bringing his trademark charisma to a bipartisan cabinet meeting or announcing a bold infrastructure plan in an electrifying State of the Union address.
- He exudes respect and kindness. People who spend time with The People’s Champion remark on his basic decency and integrity. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s remarkably down-to-earth. He shows concern for the common good: Early in his career, he founded the Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation, a charity working with at-risk and terminally ill children. He describes himself as “more patriotic than political.” And he strikes a refreshingly sober and non-partisan tone in an age of reflexive outrage: “When there’s a disagreement, and you have a large group of people that you’re in a disagreement with…it informs me that I could be better. One of the qualities of a great leader is not shutting people out…Even if we disagree, we’ve got to figure it out…If there’s a large number of people disagreeing, there might be something I’m not seeing, so let me see it. [Help] me understand it.”
- He unites people irrespective of ideology. Who else has the support of pundits from across the political spectrum, from being endorsed by left-wing Fahrenheit 9/11 documentarian Michael Moore to making the cover of the conservative stalwart The National Review?
- He’s hard working and inspires others to work hard. He wakes up every day at 4am, hits the gym at 4:30am, and grinds. He has an incredible dedication to his goals, which is apparent both in his rippling appearance and also in his professional success. The Rock is The Rock because of hard work. He was born poor, now he’s rich. The Donald is The Donald because he’s the scion of a multimillionaire real-estate magnate. He was born with a silver spoon, yet somehow he’s become the voice of working class populism. The apocryphal Trump voters who need to be part of a governing coalition in 2020—coal miners, steelworkers, cops—value hard work. And no one works harder than Dwayne Johnson.
The “Make It Work” platform
So what if the 46th president was all about working harder for America? What if the next president had credibility with all Americans who are hurting, contrasting against the bloated guy with the sluggish work ethic?
Imagine a policy platform that draws from the best parts of both Trump- and Sanders-style populism, offered by a universally loved public figure who leads by example. Real investments in education, skills, and infrastructure. Jobs. A generous minimum wage. Ensuring the highest standard of care of veterans. Promoting tolerance and fairness at the workplace. Fixing our healthcare system and addressing our public-health crises so America can get back to work. (And imagine the presidential physical fitness program!)
Imagine a policy platform that draws from the best parts of both Trump- and Sanders-style populism, offered by a universally loved public figure who leads by example. Johnson could unify all of this into a powerful platform with a simple message: “Make It Work.” He is the physical, visible embodiment of this very idea. With the right team and his remarkable ability to listen and level with the public, Johnson could actually govern.
Trump ran a very successful outsider campaign by appealing to people who were fed up with a broken system. In this way, Trump was right: Washington is fundamentally broken. The antidote to Trump and Trumpism is not to turn away from this fact: The solution is to empower political outsiders who transcend petty partisanship altogether. By doing this, Johnson could succeed in breaking the stalemates in Washington—toxic polarization, gridlock, and a basic failure to govern.
President Johnson is the antidote to the lazy, entitled, ethnically resentful version of populism represented by Trump. This starts with leadership that appeals to Americans’ best instincts and inspires them to be better. Following the racial violence in Charlottesville in mid August, Johnson—a one-time Charlottesville resident—took to Instagram with a spontaneous message of unity:
Helluva week we've had as a country. Learned a lot. To the families of the two state troopers Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke MM Bates as well as civilian, Heather Heyer who lost their lives in Charlottesville, our hearts, prayers, energy and strength are with you. Stay strong. I don't like the "noise" these days in politics. The "noise" just isn't my style. But this goes far beyond politics. It's not about Democrats or Republicans, it's about being human. Decent human beings. Not certain what all the answers are, but I am 100% certain I control my own actions. Live as greatly as we can, lead by example, lead with strength and lead with love. Painful week, but it's given us great clarity. And in that clarity, we become stronger. As one.
To many, the very idea that Johnson could be a viable candidate is a sign of our lost civic virtue and the decay of the republic. If elected, these critics will scoff: “Ah, yes, President Johnson—a charismatic meathead puppeted by corporate interests. The entertainment brand that insinuated its way into history with a winning smile and by looking comparatively better than the crazy toupee currently occupying the Oval Office.” To these critics, president Dwayne Johnson may seem eerily like the realization of president Dwayne “Mountain Dew” Herbert Camacho from the film Idiocracy, the musclebound professional wrestler who becomes the alpha ruler of a stupid dystopian future.
But these critics clearly can’t smell what The Rock is cooking.
It’s true that when measuring against Donald Trump, the bar is low. But if we raised that bar higher, Dwayne Johnson would step up to that bar and do hundreds of pull-ups without breaking a sweat.
Four years from now, the calamity of the Trump presidency might make it impossible for someone who’s never held political office to take office again. Maybe America will be ready for a conventional statesman or stateswoman.
But maybe not.