President Rock: Does Dwayne Johnson Have a Shot to Make Noise in 2020 Election?

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterNovember 14, 2017

FILE - This March 28, 2017 file photo, Dwayne Johnson, a cast member in the upcoming film
Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stands on the west front of the Capitol with his right hand raised, his herculean frame threatening to burst out of his suit, his blush-inducing smile muted for the occasion. The Stars and Stripes hang from the wall behind him. A throng of onlookers surround him as he promises to faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States.

It sounds like something we'd only see in one of Johnson's movies. But could it become reality?

Johnson, the former WWE megastar and current box-office dynamo, has come up in discussions regarding the 2020 presidential race. He's miles away from making a move in that direction, but the idea is out there. 

His most recent hint of a pursuit of the White House came at Stan Lee's Los Angeles Comic Con in October.

As Adam Bloodworth of Metro noted, the eight-time WWE champion told the crowd: "I think the 'People's President' has a really nice ring to that. I'll just say that."

One West Virginia man is already on board with the idea. He registered an exploratory campaign committee dubbed "Run the Rock 2020," per Kate Feldman of the New York Daily News.

And strangely enough, a man familiar with Johnson's old stomping ground may have cleared the path for The People's Champion to be a serious candidate.

Donald Trump was a major figure at WrestleMania 23 when his proxy, Bobby Lashley, fought for him in what was dubbed The Battle of the Billionaires between Trump and Vince McMahon. Trump also "bought" WWE's Raw show in a 2009 storyline.

The reality TV star and real estate mogul seemed to still be in pro wrestling mode when he was on the campaign trail last year. With not a shred of political experience, Trump nabbed the highest office in the land. 

Could The Rock be the second man to suffer a Stone Cold Stunner and become president?

JD Gins, a Texas-based political consultant who has worked at the state, federal and local levels inside the Democratic party, won't discount the possibility. "Most conventional wisdom of politics was turned on its head, thrown out the window and totally tossed aside," Gins told Bleacher Report.

"With Donald Trump being elected president, all bets are off."

In the past, if a professional wrestler-turned-action star put his name in the race, it would have been met with laughs. Few would have believed in Johnson's chances. We're in the midst of a radically different political climate thanks to Trump's surprising victory, however.

Suddenly, the idea of The Rock as a contending candidate isn't mere fantasy. As Gins put it: "Now, who really knows?" 


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Rock the Vote

Victory has been the norm for Johnson. 

He earned his way onto the University of Miami football team with a full scholarship and was part of the 1991 national championship squad. He became one of WWE's biggest names ever, headlining five WrestleManias. 

And now it feels like one can't turn on the TV without seeing a trailer for another blockbuster featuring The Rock.

Could that success rate continue into a new realm? Sean Waltman, who wrestled as X-Pac for WWE, won't bet against his old tag team partner. 

"I just really think anyone who doesn't think he has a good chance is insane," Waltman said.

Ashe Schow, senior political columnist for the New York Observer, won't write off Johnson, either. "I think he's got a great shot at this point," she said.

"We elected a reality TV president, members of Congress who are former athletes, former actors, former or current celebrities. We have these people now." 

Matthew Chapman, a national political writer for Shareblue, offered similar thoughts.

"I think it's definitely possible Johnson could run as a serious candidate," Chapman said. "Al Franken leveraged a career in comedy into a serious run for office and has comported himself as well as any other senator. But I think Johnson would need to win over a lot of skeptics in order to show he can do so."

The Rock wouldn't be the first WWE star to cross over into politics, either.

B. Brian Blair, famously of The Killer Bees tag team, was elected county commissioner of Hillsborough County, Florida. Glenn Jacobs, aka Kane, the sadistic pyromaniac from WWE lore, is running for mayor in Knox County, Tennessee. Jesse "The Body" Ventura, wrestling star of the 1970s and '80s, became governor of Minnesota in 1998.

Whether it comes from wrestling or elsewhere, name recognition helps in the hunt for voters. And few people on the planet have as much of as it Johnson.

He's an ever-present megastar. He's the kind of celebrity everyone from your mother-in-law to your 10-year-old nephew knows. 

"He seems beloved by all," Schow explained. "He hasn't stepped out into politics. He hasn't given any controversial views, so he hasn't polarized anyone. Everybody knows him. Everybody likes him. Celebrities tend to do well. Usually, the most well-known person gets the nomination."

Johnson may inspire folks who don't normally make it out to the polls to be more active. There's a huge supply of untapped voters out there. A lot of them may be fans of The Fast and the Furious franchise or The Great One's trash-talk resume from his SmackDown days.

Dwayne Johnson has a prominent role in The Fast and The Furious movie franchise.
Dwayne Johnson has a prominent role in The Fast and The Furious movie franchise.Evan Agostini/Associated Press

"Clearly, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson has a huge following," Gins said. "He has a lot of fans. It may be prudent to assume that a lot of them aren't traditional, diehard voters."

And while some folks may be hungry to see a return to the status quo, others may believe the only way to take on Trump is to counter with another famous person.

Gins has heard these kinds of rumblings himself. "There are a lot of people in the Democratic party who say, 'If you can't beat them, join them. Let's get Tom Hanks. Let's get Oprah. Let's get somebody famous who people love who is progressive and liberal and let's go,'" he explained.

But is that where politics is heading? Are we going to live in a reality where two consecutive presidents played major roles at WrestleMania before heading to the Oval Office?

              

A Changed Game

Trump's presidential win was a stunner. With zero political experience and controversy crackling all around him, The Donald won the highest office in the land against an established lawmaker last November.

Was that upset a blip or a trend? Will voters lean toward choosing outsiders? 

Will Donald Trump's presidential win be an anomaly?
Will Donald Trump's presidential win be an anomaly?Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

"What does that mean for 2020?" Gins asked. "It means anything is possible."

The political consultant and former campaign manager said perhaps "a sincere return to normalcy" is ahead but noted that change could be brewing. That would be good news for The Rock.

Johnson could cast a wider net than most politicians. And that would be huge.

"A small influx of new people in the primary process has a huge impact on the outcome," Gins said.

And while Trump's victory was groundbreaking, an election that's dependent on more than policy would be nothing new. 

Famously, many who listened to the 1960 presidential debate on the radio believed Richard Nixon won, and those who watched on TV believed John F. Kennedy to be the victor. JFK's poise and good looks made him a more appealing candidate to some. 

Attractiveness, how healthy one appears and even one's height can influence voters.

"There used to be this theory that the taller candidate won. I think there's evidence to that. [Barack] Obama was taller than [John] McCain. Trump was taller than Hillary [Clinton]," Schow said.

If that's the case, The Rock should enter 2020 as the favorite. Johnson is 6'5" with a superhero frame. There isn't likely to be any opposition taller than him.

And as Schow noted, personality is key, too. "In 2000, George W. Bush was a character. Al Gore was not. In 2008, Obama had all the celebrity. John McCain was just a pragmatic senator. Clinton came off as boring, uninteresting and at times, mean. Trump was something we have never seen before," she explained.

The Rock doesn't represent the Gore/McCain side of that equation. He's a magnetic man, a smooth-talker and as personable as you can get.

Waltman saw all that up close. The former WWE European and tag team champ first met Johnson in the late '90s when Waltman returned to the company after a stint with World Championship Wrestling, and the two men worked together as both partners and opponents. 

He saw something special in Johnson from the get-go.

"I noticed right away he was going to be bigger than wrestling," Waltman said. "And I'm sure I wasn't the only one. There's just that something extra about him."

About which components of Johnson's personality would help him win an election, X-Pac said: "All the same qualities that endeared him to everyone on a such a huge scale during his time in WWE. The X-factor, that magic ingredient, that thing you can't put your finger on."

But the question remains: Can Johnson's larger-than-life aura counterbalance his complete lack of experience? A model where first-timers take over vital positions is a daunting one.

"There are always going to be some voters who look for personality first in the candidate they want to support," Chapman said. "In moderation, I don't think this is an unhealthy impulse—politicians can benefit from being personally compelling to people. But looking to celebrities from other walks of life to run for office is an extension of that impulse, and as we saw with Trump, the consequences can be severe."

            

Questions Ahead

Ronald Reagan went from acting to the Oval Office but spent time as a governor and served on committees. Johnson, meanwhile, would be going in blind.

And that has to make some voters nervous.

Trump's vault from citizen to president was unprecedented for a reason. "It's like being elevated to being an NFL quarterback if you've never played football before," Gins explained. "You don't know the offense. You don't know anything at all. And all of a sudden, here you are, driving the most important offense in the world."

But even before he sniffed a political win, The Rock would have to do things he has yet to do.

He's been able, to this point, to remain apolitical. He says inspiring things. He interacts with fans. He hasn't had to play the politics game.

While he did speak at the 2000 Republican National Convention, he didn't endorse any candidates. He was there to encourage voter turnout. And to balance things, he also showed up to the Democratic National Convention that year.

Should he run in 2020, he wouldn't be able to straddle the fence.

And that would be new ground for him. Waltman noted that while wrestlers such as John "Bradshaw" Layfield and Val Venis were vocal about their political views in the WWE locker room, The Rock was not.

Instead, Johnson didn't often touch on that sort of thing.

"He's not polarizing," Waltman said. "There's nothing polarizing about him. He's unifying if anything."

That has remained true. Johnson hasn't taken a clear step toward any party line.

"The Rock doesn't really have political positions," Schow said. "He hasn't weighed in on a controversy. How he handles that will be key. If he steps out and gives a controversial opinion, he might lose tons of people. If he's liberal on some issues and conservative on some issues, he might lose sides of the base that could help him."

He will have to field questions about the most controversial topics in this country—gun control, immigration, abortion, taxes. 

And as Gins explained, that will affect his income: "If he runs, he's going to pick a side and piss off somebody else, and half the country won't see his movies anymore."

The Rock takes a photo with fans.
The Rock takes a photo with fans.Rich Polk/Getty Images

How Trump fares in the public eye will dictate his chances, too. If one views The Donald as a success, it will be easier to buy into the idea of someone who waltzes in from outside Washington and becomes commander in chief. 

Otherwise, there might be a stronger desire to get back to elections won by boring, old politicians.

"On the one hand, his political instincts are noble," Chapman said. "On the other hand, if he is serious about pursuing the White House, he will need to convince me the trend we are on of celebrities without political experience running for high public office is one that can be positive for the country."

With abundant charm and celebrity in his tool belt, Johnson may well do some big-time convincing. He's succeeded everywhere he's gone, from the football field to the WWE ring to the box office.

An underdog run to the White House may be what The Rock is cooking next.

           

Ryan Dilbert is the Lead WWE Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Note that Chapman's, Gins' and Schow's views here reflect their personal opinions and not that of their employers.