In American politics, few mainstream figures are as controversial as former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. A Navy SEAL, pro-wrestler, singer, and movie star, the one-time Reform Party candidate can boast of having achieved a great many accomplishments in an assortment of fields, though mastering conventionalism is not one of them. From the moment his campaign “shocked the world” by triumphing over the Democratic and Republican establishment opponents, Ventura opened himself to glowing praise from some and equally harsh condemnation from others.
Always brazen, often politically incorrect, Ventura’s pragmatic views on everything from religion to gun rights made many friends and countless enemies. After four years in office, he was one of the most recognized, albeit polarizing elected figures in the country, the master of a memorable no-holds-barred personality. This larger-than-life persona may have paid off, however, as he not only became the poster-child for what third parties could potentially achieve, but eventually also landed his own MSNBC talk show, Jesse Ventura’s America. Of course, in typical Jesse fashion, the program pushed the envelope a tad far by arguing for the legalization of marijuana and opposing the Iraq War; it was cancelled after less than a year.
Now, eleven years after his return to private life, Jesse “The Governor” Ventura is once again in the headlines, this time for reportedly setting his sights on the presidency, an office that many have speculated he has long coveted. Ventura 2016 is a possibility that has activists in the “liberty movement” reeling with excitement; the last time an independent presidential contender came close to winning was 1992, when billionaire H. Ross Perot nabbed nineteen percent of the popular vote. Some feel Ventura, a close ally of libertarian Congressman Ron Paul, could become a major contender, picking up where the recently retired Texas Representative left off.
Ventura certainly has the personality, credentials, and popularity needed to wage a legitimate campaign, but does he really have the intention to do so? Skeptics have their doubts. This isn’t the first time the prospect of a presidential bid has been raised; the former Governor has expressed interest in re-entering public life on several occasions, always teetering close to a declaration of candidacy without ever quite doing so. In 2008, there was the threat of a Senate campaign, and four years later, hopes he would run for president, as was threatened during Ron Paul’s Rally for the Republic. Neither manifested; the closest Ventura ever came to seeking the Oval Office was in the midst of the 2000 presidential primaries, when he extended an invitation to Senator John McCain, the self-proclaimed “maverick” Republican, to share an independent ticket, though the offer was declined.
Of course, Ventura’s public profile has changed a lot since he was in office. A long-time conspiracy buff, particularly regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he has since expanded his worldview to include several other controversial issues, and until recently, was the host of TruTV’s popular Conspiracy Theory. He has questioned whether the Bush Administration was complicit in the September 11th attacks, tried to corner the TSA during a lawsuit, and wrote several books on a range of conspiratorial topics. To some, this has proved Ventura’s courageous patriotism; detractors, however, feel it is proof he could never be viewed as a credible contender. A defamation suit against recently deceased Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who claimed in his autobiography that he pummeled Ventura during a bar fight, could also have negative repercussions on future runs for office.
Yet, while Ventura’s televised warnings of a coming police state and authoritarian dictatorship may have sounded crazed months ago, the recent scandals within the Obama Administration (the IRS’s targeting Rightwing groups, the NSA’s seizing Verizon’s phone records, and increased domestic spying) have sunken the public’s trust in Washington to understandably low levels. A character like Ventura, an outsider who isn’t afraid to directly attack such policies, could stake a foothold if the Republicans fail to field an appealing candidate in 2016.
Thus, two questions remain: will Jesse Ventura actually run for the presidency and could he stand a chance of becoming a serious contender? Whatever the case, there is still a chance, however minute, that “The Body” could someday become “The President.” Stranger things have certainly happened.