Connecticut's cage-match Senate campaign
Republicans offer two new models of their future, writes columnist Gail Collins. One is the tea-party vision, in which outsiders full of spirit overthrow the old order. The other model is the one in Connecticut: richest bidder wins. Take Senate candidate and WWE CEO Linda McMahon — please.
Pretend you're the Republican leadership in a smallish state with an open United States Senate seat. The opposition is running a popular, longtime officeholder whose sense of inevitability was shaken by recent revelations that he had referred to himself as a Vietnam War veteran when he isn't one.
Your own options are:
A) A well-regarded former congressman who is a decorated Vietnam War veteran.
B) A political novice who made her fortune building up an entertainment business that specialized in blood, seminaked women and scripted subplots featuring rape, adultery and familial violence. In which the candidate, her husband and children played themselves. Also, the family yacht is named Sexy Bitch.
Well, obviously, you go for the yacht owner.
Yes, this week the Connecticut Republican Party chose Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, to be their Senate candidate. Her main opponent, the former Rep. Rob Simmons, packed up his war medals and went home.
"You can't argue with arithmetic," he told The New London Day.
The math in question is $50 million, the amount McMahon claimed she was prepared to spend on her campaign. Connecticut has just under 2 million registered voters, so maybe she'll just invite everybody in the state to a nice dinner at Red Lobster.
So far this season, the Republicans have offered two new models of their future. One is the tea-party vision, in which outsiders full of spirit and excitement overthrow the old order. In North Carolina, there was so much spirit and excitement that voters gave the top spot in a congressional primary to a former drug addict who, according to court documents, once referred to the United States government as the Antichrist and claimed to have personally located the Ark of the Covenant.
Meanwhile in Kentucky, primary voters nominated Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist, for the Senate, ignoring the pleas of party leaders to go for somebody less spirited and exciting. Paul promptly got into trouble over his lack of enthusiasm for requiring restaurants to serve black people and his criticism of President Obama for being disrespectful of oil-drilling companies.
The other model is the one on view in Connecticut: richest bidder wins. For governor, the Republican convention endorsed Tom Foley, a longtime party fundraiser who was once George W. Bush's ambassador to Ireland. Foley, whose 100-foot yacht makes the McMahons' 47-footer look like a dinghy, instantly identified himself as an "outsider."
Both Foley and McMahon are what political pros like to call "self-financers." And while McMahon doesn't dwell on her willingness to pay all the campaign freight, her sales pitch is all about financial success.
"People call Linda McMahon a CEO, job creator, business leader. But I just call her Mom," says daughter Stephanie in a much, much repeated TV ad. WWE fans all remember Stephanie from the day she slugged Mom in a spat over the Wrestlemania fight card, but we are not going there anymore. In fact, the McMahon organization has been busily scrubbing the Internet of every embarrassing clip it can claim a copyright on.
The McMahons made a mint off the formerly seedy, small-town entertainment known as professional wrestling by adding heavy doses of sex, more spectacular violence and a raw tone that bordered on pornography. Linda McMahon now likes to brag that she has "created a product that is one of America's greatest exports," as if there's no question that bringing half-naked women wrestling in pudding to 145 countries was one of America's greater accomplishments.
You can overlook a lot of sleaze for $50 million. Simmons distributed a video of Vince McMahon, Linda's husband, standing in the ring and telling a weeping female wrestler to take off her clothes, get down on her knees and "dammit, bark like a dog." Nobody paid attention.
On the plus side, ever since Linda McMahon developed political ambitions, the WWE has attempted to clean up the more outrageous elements in its act, sparing millions of impressionable children from the old hints of necrophilia, the abundance of gore and the side stories in which Stephanie lost her blouse in the ring, Vince ran off with a floozy and Linda was sexually assaulted by a competing promoter.
"One good thing has come from her run: Vince McMahon putting out an edict that there will no longer be any cutting of your foreheads with razor blades," said Superstar Billy Graham, a retired wrestler who contracted hepatitis from a bloody competitor. "He has actually stopped wrestlers from cutting their heads with razor blades. This is a big deal!"
We take progress anywhere we can get it.
Gail Collins is a regular columnist for The New York Times.