Here’s a confession: I used to watch a lot of pro wrestling when I was a kid. I’m dating myself, but Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Randy Savage (my favorite), all those guys, I watched as much of the old WWF as I could. If you don’t know anything about pro wrestling, there used to be two big companies: WWF, owned by Vince McMahon, and WCW, owned by Ted Turner and later Time Warner. WCW liked to throw money around, and it poached a lot of WWF’s bigger names, but as those guys aged the product aged with them, and not in a good way. In 2001 WCW went out of business–Time Warner sold it to McMahon. Still having some nostalgia for the wrestling I watched as a kid, I started watching it again around this time, partly to see some of the guys I grew up watching go back to WWF (now WWE).
McMahon planned this whole storyline where WCW was supposed to “invade” WWE, so the wrestlers from the “two companies”–really one company now–would feud with each other. The storyline was a total flop, but it did produce at least one memorable gimmick. After the “WWE” side won the feud, all these guys who supposedly “invaded” or whatever had to beg McMahon, in the story, for a job, and the only form of begging he would accept involved them literally kissing his ass, on camera. He called it the “Kiss My Ass Club.” I apologize for including this video but, if you didn’t already know this stuff, I think it’s the only way to convince you that it all really happened:
I started thinking about the “Kiss My Ass Club” yesterday when I saw video of Mitt “Mitt” Romney visiting with our President-elect to discuss…well, who knows, but everybody’s reporting that it was to discuss Romney potentially coming on as Trump’s Secretary of State. On its face this doesn’t make any sense–“Mitt” may be a whiz bang at chopping up your company and selling it for parts, but the closest he’s ever come to a job in foreign affairs was either the time he spent longing (in many respects) to be in Vietnam while he was actually in France, or the time he “saved” the Olympics (which weren’t in any real danger) by
balancing their books begging for a shitload of money from the federal government. But Trump doesn’t exactly seem like the type to know or care about experience, and Romney undoubtedly knows more about foreign affairs than Trump–my dog doesn’t have any fleas, but if she did most of them would know more about foreign affairs than Trump.
What really makes this unlikely is that, uh, Donald Trump and “Mitt” Romney basically hate each other’s rotten guts. Look at what they said about each other during this past campaign: “Mitt” called Donald a “con man,” a “phony,” a “fraud,” who was trying to “play members of the American public for suckers.” He said that “dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark,” and lambasted him for the “bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.” And that was in one speech. Trump, for his part, repeatedly derided Romney as a loser and a choker for losing the 2012 election, a chicken for not running in 2016, and at one point seemed to suggest that Romney would have fellated him in 2012 in exchange for his endorsement. Yet there we were yesterday, with Romney calling Trump “sir” and saying how much he “appreciated” the chance to meet with the President-elect.
A few days before his big meeting with “Mitt,” Trump invited Ted Cruz to
his presidential palace Trump Tower to discuss…well, again, who knows. Cruz was the last man standing in the Republican primary and so obviously he and Trump had a bit of a rough go for a while. He memorably refused to endorse Trump during a prime time convention speech and was treated to a chorus of boos and a lot of slobbering courtier press coverage for it. Cruz finally did endorse Trump, reluctantly, and then considered rescinding his endorsement days later when the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced. They’re not close, needless to say. But all it took was Trump floating the idea that he might pick Cruz as his Attorney General (he didn’t) or even nominate him for the Supreme Court (he won’t) to send Cruz to New York to bend the knee.
Why would Trump’s people leak that Romney and Cruz are on their short-lists? This is a guy who all but fired Chris Christie, who’s been a barnacle on Trump’s bloated body ever since Christie quit the primary, over some perceived lack of loyalty or family resentments or whatever. Why on earth would he consider two political foes for actual important jobs in his administration? Well, it’s starting to seem like the reason was to elicit exactly the response Trump elicited, which was to have two high-profile rivals publicly come to him and join the (metaphorical) Kiss Donald Trump’s Ass Club:
Transition officials say the meeting with Mr. Romney, a moderate Republican who was the party’s nominee for president in 2012, may not have been simply for show. They say that Mr. Trump believes that Mr. Romney, with his patrician bearing, looks the part of a top diplomat right out of “central casting” — the same phrase Mr. Trump used to describe Mike Pence before choosing him as his running mate.
Yet Mr. Trump loves the tension and drama of a selection process, and has sought to stoke it. A senior adviser described the meeting, in part, as Mr. Romney simply coming to pay his respects to the president-elect and “kiss his ring.”
For Romney and Cruz, of course, it’s a little embarrassing that they would allow themselves to be played like this, assuming that’s what happened. But in defense of both of them, at least they held out for some public acknowledgement from Trump before they got in line to kiss his ass. Paul Ryan (a lukewarm Trump supporter at best) and Lindsey Graham (a staunch Never* Trumper**), started puckering up as soon as the Pennsylvania returns came in.
Maybe Romney and/or Cruz really will get something tangible out of the Trump administration and this theory is all wrong. People are flailing around to try to get a read on this administration in its early days, and Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber suggests that might be part of the point:
However, multivocality can plausibly take a variety of different forms. The Renaissance form is to adopt a strategy of ‘whatever you say, say nothing,’ leaving it for others to interpret your ambiguous actions as they will, forcing them to commit while you remain unbounded. Another is to talk constantly, but not to allow what you say to be constrained by consistency, or logic, or anything other than the short term desire to badfoot your opponents in short term tactical games and the long term one to make everyone pay attention to you, and condition their actions on you, without you having to condition their actions on them. The two have somewhat similar long term consequences. In each, the successful practitioner dominates the public space and public argument as everyone tries to interpret what the hell you have done, paying attention to you and no-one else but you, so that you can continue to play center stage in the theater of politics while everyone else is reduced to Waldorf and Statler, carping from the critics’ box.
I want to say this gives Trump too much credit by assuming that he knows what he’s doing and why he’s doing it from moment to moment, but the truth is I don’t really know. But I do know that, before he ran for president, Donald Trump liked to occasionally perform with…Vince McMahon’s WWE:
Maybe he took some notes.