Almost $100 million can buy you a lot of things, including two failed runs for the U.S. Senate
by WALLY SLOTZ
November 2009 - November 2010
WEST HARTFORD, CONN. — I wasn’t even thirteen seconds into my interview with Linda McMahon when I knew her whole senate candidacy was completely full of shit. Going in, I never watched a single episode of WWE. I knew nothing about this person.
But going from novelty wife of WWE king Vince McMahon, known more for her appearances in the Ring in which she pretended to be paralyzed, among other story lines, to potential senate contender? Pick a lane, lady!
We’re sitting down, me having a hard time trying to keep a straight face and nodding every few seconds to signal a level of engagement, while McMahon talked to me like she was giving a personal power point presentation in her charmingly subtle Southern drawl. She seemed to never blink, and the cadence in her speak maintained a droll, even pace.
Her press aide, Susan Bibisi, the generously paid former reporter whose husband is ex-drunk state Republican Party Chairman Christopher Healy, was by her side the whole time, practically timing our interview with a stop watch.
I was through with asking her questions just to ease into our talks like “what’s your favorite restaurant here?” or “where do you shop for your grandchildren?” So I transitioned to the topic of the recent government green-lighted bailouts.
“Where do you stand with the bailouts?” I asked
“I think it was a necessary thing to do at the time. Our economy was on the brink of collapse,” McMahon told me, her South Carolina accent revealing itself.
I got the feeling it was a question McMahon’s campaign did not want her answering without having it be thoroughly poll-tested and analyzed by the “right” people. Also mainly because soon started criticizing those same bailouts in an advertising onslaught for the next year. She was about to run an onslaught of ads attacking her Democratic opponent, Chris Dodd, a Wall Street water boy campaigning as a venerable Democrat of the people, for supporting TARP and government bailouts.
The truth is the state had no real choice. The only thing that mattered was that whoever you voted for—McMahon, Dodd or eventually her opponent Richard Blumenthal, the current attorney general—you were casting a vote for the bad guys. But back track a bit. It was a few days before that I got a call to sit down and have coffee with the candidate, McMahon, who had just opened up a new slick campaign office in West Hartford Center, a place that I absolutely hate for being full of boring rich white people but still end up spending most of my time drinking there anyway for reasons unapparent to me. Sure, I thought. They probably think the best way to start off a campaign is to ask a reporter from a local and harmless newspaper tabloid out for coffee. You know, get the whole publicity blitz slowly rolling before they have to start answering real questions.
Our interview was in November 2009. McMahon had not long ago launched her bid against then-opponent Chris Dodd. After meeting Bibisi that morning, she laid out some ground rules while I waited in line for a coffee. “Anything you see in the (campaign) office is off the record,” she said.
EXCLUSIVE: Linda McMahon’s campaign headquarters has computers inside and the walls are red.
“OK” I said, thinking that I could give a fuck what her office looked like inside anyway.
“Is it okay if we take a little bit of video of you interviewing her just for our records?” Bibisi asks me. “Um —” “How bout if we get the back of your head?” she quickly added.
Screw it, I thought. I didn’t care anymore at this point.
I agreed with the whole back-of-the head deal, not wanting to get on the campaign’s bad side before our first meeting. It would all come back to haunt me a few months later in the form of a McMahon mass e-mailer that showed the WWE superstar touring the state. Appearing in the video, a passing shot of the back of my head nodding in agreement to whatever garbage McMahon was filling my ears up with at the moment. I felt more used than a reporter usually feels. But, whatever, I thought. This was better than waiting tables on assholes, I thought, lying to myself.
We sit down on a Friday morning. It’s me, McMahon, Bibisi, some annoying videographer for her campaign, another mute young campaign worker, and McMahon’s bottle of hand sanitizer. I couldn’t even focus on the interview half the time because I was so distracted by McMahon’s incessant urge to sanitize. It was creepy. She came off as intensely robotic, and just kept sanitizing the whole time. I was getting completely thrown off and couldn’t perform at my job.
I started on the small talk, asking her about the strategic location of her campaign headquarters in West Hartford, when she abruptly transitioned with her “In fact I lived in West Hartford” spiel calculated to pander to the locals. There she was, already sounding like a well-oiled politico. Freaky robotic shit, man.
But the topic of TARP and the $700 billion Wall Street bailout had just about pissed off most of the country (sort of) and I wanted to know what she thought. “Something had to be done, but TARP got sideways. TARP was designed to buy toxic assets. It went far beyond that. Now government owns part of the automobile industry and the TARP money that’s coming back is not bringing the debt down, it’s more or less looked at as kind of a revolving charge so the government can take the money that’s coming back and put it elsewhere. Instead of paying the debt, our debt is just growing and growing. TARP was a necessary step to take at the time at the very end of the former administration,” McMahon said.
Which is true, but except a short time later she started criticizing TARP and bank bailouts in her ads. Yes, we got completely out of hand by bailing out a small group of people who were responsible for crashing our economy, but why walk that line back and then say you are against those bailouts just because the Democratic opponent was for it.
McMahon, the anti-government outsider, was for TARP but ultimately ran a series of ads in the next few months slamming TARP and government bailouts because it was politically convenient since that arrogant money-hater Obama was now in office. As a corporatist trying to get into government, McMahon is trying to run against an entity that also initiated generous tax cuts and tax credits that her company is a recipient of here in Stamford.
Of course that question didn’t appear in her campaign video, just the back of my head, and Linda; there she was, looking stoic and grossly interested in whatever we were talking about.
In the television, the Internet and on the radio, Linda McMahon is the gentle librarian who wishes well for all, a successful businesswoman who went from nothing to something, the Washington outsider who listens and will bring change to a political system that has been unchangeable for so long. With enough money to buy whatever she wants, including lavish catering parties and a Death Star campaign operation based here in town, McMahon has created a Republican Senate campaign of the “You can’t tell me shit”-type, complete with a political consulting arm that is run by Freedomworks PR Whore Ed Patru, a Napoleonic flack jacket who since coming into Connecticut to be McMahon’s campaign spokesman has surely pissed off every reporter covering the race. He’s known for completely sanitizing every part of the campaign and sending reporters asshole emails any opportunity he gets.
On the night that she lost, McMahon threw a huge banger at the Connecticut Convention Center. My friend Peter met there and afterward Patru came out behind a side curtain and we both went up to him and started giving him backslapping congratulations on the campaign. He must have felt so important. Sure, he lost, but he got to run a campaign and build his cutthroat, shit-talking resume for future vapid campaign operations. We ended our exchange with him telling us a story about the time he hit a deer in Wisconsin. That was his big story. Of all the things you could talk about, he told us a story about Hitting. A. Deer.
Nothing really happened during that whole past year of McMania. Tons of spin emails later, countless articles by McMahon campaign cheerleaders, and we don’t really know what McMahon would do in the senate besides not be a career politician. She’s a career CEO, and that’s just as bad.
McMahon is really just another bean counter who will strengthen the marriage between our government and monolithic, multi-national corporations. She is a so-called outsider candidate whose campaign is run by the same people who have studied under Karl Rove, and run by the same insider money and line of thinking that has helped ruin America in the past 20 years. She is not change nor is she an outsider, just like everyone else who runs for major office in America. McMahon represents a fractured segment of the Republican party that still doesn’t get that the policies espoused by Ronald Reagan have failed. She’s a Republican who wants less government intervention but if put on the spot to vote, would have bailed out the banks quicker as a senator than kicking someone in the nuts on WWE.
And I’m not saying Democrats aren’t just as responsible. They are probably more so responsible.
It is hard to tell which is the more handled candidate: McMahon or our Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, who is the Democratic choice now that Chris Dodd will not seek re-election. Both are a pair of sheltered rich white people who are so far removed from reality that when posed simple questions like “How are you going to stand up to people like Linda McMahon?” they just stare at you. But here ya go. Almost $40 million dropped on one failed campaign filled with sleazy TV ads, horrible WWE cliches, an annoying media blitz, decadent campaign parties and the most sanitized and lackluster political dialogue in recent memory.
On that election night, I met my friend there after I got off deadline for work. He was already a goner having popped a clonazepam after a few drinks and was wearing a Linda 2010 shirt, just babbling nonsense with some old guy. It was hilarious. Much later on in the night, I found him wandering around in the parking garage still looking for his car after leaving like half and hour prior to that.
So that night we both turned to the bar and had a look at the wonderful spread of booze and alcohol before us. It was time to celebrate.
Tuesday, Nov. 2, 11:32 p.m. Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford
4 gin and tonics, slice of pizza, cheese and crackers, cigarette, rail, rail, rail, cigarette, 2 gin and tonics, bruschetta, two shots of Jameson, bowl of tortellini, few mushroom caps, heineken, cigarette, cigarette, rail, cigarette, rail, heineken, pizza, bagel, 2 heineken, Jameson, bottle of champagne, crackers, cigarette, gin and tonic, heineken, Amstel, chips, crackers, joint, chips, crackers, cake, cigarette, cigarette, cigarette, water, sleep.
Linda McMahon, thanks for showing up and at least taking care of the bill!
Prologue: Since the filing of this encounter, Linda McMahon has lost two bids for the U.S. Senate, dropping $100 million of her own money assaulting residents with a protracted and banal campaign across Connecticut that spanned close to four years . This meet-up with her took place in November 2009, just as her campaign was starting to lift off. I am pretty sure I was one of the first reporters to really sit down with her for an interview, as her handlers maybe thought that by inviting a young and naive local newspaper reporter they would get some good press, and everything would get off to a great start. I had just begun my first reporting job for a newspaper owned by Journal-Register company, a nihilistically trashy chain of tabloids up and down the east coast and parts of the midwest. That I grew extremely restless is a bit of an understatement. I was fired a year later.
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