With Bernie Sanders seemingly out of the race for good, leftists have begun to ponder who to vote for as an alternative to their favorite Vermont Senator in the coming general election. Some have decided to bite the bullet and vote for Joe Biden, but since he’s been credibly accused of sexual assault, even those who would traditionally fall into the “vote blue no matter who” camp are clamoring to have him swapped out. Asking left-leaning individuals to vote for an accused rapist is a proposition that many will simply refuse, especially if there’s a real left alternative presented on the ballot.
Fortunately, former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura has been teasing an entry into the race, presumably as the Green party candidate: “I authorized a letter of interest that was sent on my behalf to the Greens and I’m testing the waters for Green Party nomination”, said Ventura on Twitter. Just when the 2020 election was beginning to look truly depressing, a Ventura candidacy promises to bring the visceral energy and excitement back to the election that Sanders imbued it with prior to his exit.
Ventura surely touts the most name recognition of anyone to run as a third party candidate in years, and his policy beliefs uniquely straddle the populist left and right movements, synthesizing Progressive and Libertarian values of ending our foriegn wars, legalizing cannabis and disbanding the surveillance state, among others. Indeed, Jesse Ventura represents the same streak of anti-establishment populism that Bernie Sanders brought to the Democratic party and that Donald Trump brought to the Republican party in 2016.
Trump was always a faux-populist, and a con-man, as Ventura often calls him. And Bernie’s quixotic mission to take over the Democratic party from within approached victory, only to be beaten back by the establishment candidates who all consolidated behind Biden before Super Tuesday. These two case studies prove that accomplishing real systemic change via the two parties is a fool’s errand, and that the quicker these two parties die off, the better for our democracy.
It seems to be Jesse Ventura’s mission to do just that. “I don’t distinguish between the two parties, because there is no difference. They’re both owned by the same corporate ownership. If you bet on both teams in the Super Bowl, you’re not going to lose, are ya?” said Ventura on a 2015 episode of In Depth with Graham Bensinger. And he’s not wrong. Every election, leftists invest their hopes and dreams into the Democratic candidate, and time and time again we are disappointed by the lack of progress brought about. Because the Democratic party is so awash in corporate money (in many districts even out-raising their Republican opponents in corporate cash), it’s almost impossible to override these big money forces from within, as Bernie proved twice by running for the nomination only to be cheated, ignored and smeared by the media and the DNC itself, which undermines its progressive left flank at every opportunity.
In the same In Depth interview from 2015, Ventura continued to illustrate his feelings on politicians taking big money: “I wish they’d require anyone running for president to wear a Nascar suit with patches dictating who owns them. Well, if Jesse Ventura runs for president, there won’t be a patch on the suit. It’ll be clear white.” In this one analogy, Ventura perhaps explained the corruption of big money interests in Washington better than Bernie Sanders ever did, and in a far more memorable way.
Bernie, like so many politicians on the left, is a very serious person. So much so, that he even politely refused Ventura’s endorsement in 2016, fearing that the former-governor’s enthusiasm for conspiracy theories could cheapen the seriousness of his platform. What Bernie didn’t account for is that his campaign would have actually benefited from Jesse’s brash presence, giving them a star to unleash and to make the case for anti-establishment politics in the unapologetic way Jesse is prone to. Before getting involved in Minnesota politics, Ventura made a name for himself as a pro-wrestler — Jesse “The Body” Ventura, who was just as legendary of a shit talker as he was a wrestler. Perhaps it’s precisely this energy the left should harness in response to Trump, an admittedly effective showman, and Biden, who can barely even stay on script during his brief media appearances. Ventura’s authentic, cut-to-the-chase truth-telling would surely look preferable in comparison. “If I do [run], Trump will not have a chance. For one, Trump knows wrestling. He knows he can never out-talk a wrestler, and he knows I’m the greatest talker wrestling’s ever had”, promised Ventura in a brief 2018 interview.
Yes, if Ventura runs then he will surely have to answer for some of his more questionable statements over the years, including his dabbling in 9/11 truthism. There is no doubt that the clowns on MSNBC will try to endlessly caricature his anti-establishment views into nothing more than silly conspiracies. But when people actually listen to Ventura, there is a good chance that his boldness will cut through — similarly to how Trump’s brash rhetoric made him impossible to ignore in 2016. Ventura can apply the same strategy to this election, except focusing on serious issues like campaign finance, foreign policy and climate change rather than xenophobic demagoguing.
A veteran of the Vietnam war, much of Ventura’s policy beliefs are clearly shaped by his experience during the war and his subsequent realization that the government lied, and many of his comrades died for nothing. He frequently calls President Trump “President Bone Spurs”, mocking the fact that Trump used his privilege as a member of the New York elite to dodge the draft by pretending to have bone spurs in his feet, a crippling ailment he would go on to “forget” he ever had.
It’s this kind of political warfare that a standard Democrat would never have the gumption to wage, but which Ventura innately relishes in. Not only will this kind of rhetoric force the media to cover Jesse, but his savage attacks could actually make some on the right think twice about continuing to support Trump, who will look much less like the alpha male when standing beside Ventura on a debate stage.
Though third parties historically fail in winning elections or even getting to the 5% threshold necessary for federal funding, Jesse Ventura is uniquely positioned to overcome those odds. Why? Because he already did it once, running as a candidate for the Reform party in the 1998 Minnesota’s gubernatorial election, which he won in a shocking upset victory, narrowly outperforming both the Democrat and Republican candidates. As governor, Ventura took a state budget surplus and decided to give the money back to Minnesotans; for all four years of his governorship, citizens received a tax-free check in the mail every summer. Though the concept of Universal Basic Income is currently in vogue, Ventura was putting it into practice over a decade ago, not as a flashy policy prescription, but simply because he deemed it the best use of excess government funds.
Similarly to Bernie Sanders, Jesse Ventura doesn’t care about whether or not his hair is combed. He often dresses in t-shirts, and his favorite hobby is motorcycling. He’s held the same anti-corruption, anti-corporate, and anti-war views his entire career, and just as he shocked the country by overcoming the two-party duopoly in Minnesota, he can do so on the national stage. Ideologically, there’s not much separating the views of Sanders and Ventura, which is why the former governor tried to endorse Bernie in 2016. Now that Sanders is out of contention? It may be up to “The Body” to finish the job.