In the Philippines, where the nation’s “a***hole” president has earned a reputation as the most aggressive populist in Asia, boxing legend Manny Pacquiao said Monday he was prepared to wage a spirited campaign to unseat Duterte.
Now, in the contest to be the first indigenous American to serve in Congress, former professional wrestler-turned-lawmaker Mark Green is the leading contender to replace disgraced Republican Frank Guinta in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Since 2010, the 39-year-old Green has twice challenged Guinta in their race for the second House district seat. Both times he captured 41 percent of the vote, and both times he conceded.
This time, Green is favored to beat two other candidates in a special election Tuesday: Robert Robinson Jr., who picked up support from former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, and Robert Gordon, who has the backing of outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan.
As a traditional Democrat, Green faces a substantial hurdle to being an effective member of Congress. The late New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu once said of Democrats: “If they don’t love themselves, how can they love the country?” And there’s a reason former U.S. presidents like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter don’t look like kings on Mount Rushmore. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love the country. When it comes to domestic issues, Republicans generally value fiscal conservatism over rhetoric, doing the work rather than soundbites.
And that’s why it’s worth noting that the dark political back story with Green isn’t any different than with him.
The former WWE star, who holds a PhD in accounting, made headlines when he tried — and failed — to get both party leaders and celebrity supporters to take him seriously as a candidate for governor of the state of Maryland.
Over the years, Greene has endured self-inflicted political missteps. In 2008, his house burned down, and after that, he had a non-political friend build him a new house. Then he gave a rambling interview to the local news describing how he is able to see the moral truth in Dante’s 14th-century epic poem, “Inferno.”
The follies continued. In 2011, he opened his campaign offices in a strip mall. This April, he sponsored a bill to have everything burned down on Election Day — except for the candidates themselves, because, he said, “I don’t want them to be disqualified” from running. It’s not clear who drafted that idea.
But during the primary campaign this year, he put the issue behind him to focus on the challenge ahead.
On Sept. 26, he popped a $550,000 settlement check to the state of Maryland, to pay up for losing a lawsuit he filed after his campaign manager was arrested on a DUI charge. The case was dismissed.
Despite a record that has been very much like his wrestling character, Mark Green has some political bona fides. He served as a public defender for 16 years in Prince George’s County, Md., where his politics were very close to the ideals of civil rights, immigration reform and pro-business people.
At the core of Green’s campaign has been the theme of “real change” — change that could produce both economic and social benefits that are overly dependent on the central government. Green wants government to focus on educating children and helping the unemployed and elderly, not playing the role of social saviors. He also opposes “gambling”, which he says helps perpetuate social inequalities.
In this election, Green, like other independents, will benefit greatly from the growing number of anti-Trump sentiment among the general population. That climate is already helping unseat the GOP’s anti-immigration wing in one district. And it is just one of several such races throughout the country.
While public discontent with the incumbent president may not be translating into electoral support for those individuals seeking office, it’s unlikely the anti-Trump voters will all stop at supporting candidates who are opposed to the current leader.
In the cases of other Democrats like Pacquiao and Green, those anti-Duterte voters are turning the tables, following their activism by making things difficult for the person now running the country — by working hard to elect someone else.
In that way, the resistance to President Trump’s agenda — whether it be tax reform, maintaining the Iran nuclear deal, or President Trump’s immigration policies — has just delivered what’s long been wanted in these cases: A candidate who is not beholden to Big Government.
Matt Steinglass is a former newspaper columnist who is now a managing partner at the public relations firm Betelhof & Bonaparte. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Steinglass.