Reporters and other political observers chronicling the surprising rise of Donald Trump in the Republican presidential contest are fond of drawing comparison’s to Jesse Ventura’s shocking win in Minnesota’s 1998 governor’s race. Most of the parallels are shallow and don’t truly reflect what happened in Ventura’s victory.
Now, there’s another overlap for pundits to ponder, and it’s all about toys.
The ex-pro wrestler/action-film cast member/talk radio host/former suburban mayor Ventura, who as a Reform Party candidate defeated established Democrat and Republican nominees, cut an enduring TV ad during his low-budget campaign featuring children playing with an action figure in the mold of Ventura.
“You can make Jesse battle special interest groups and party politics,” the narrator says. “You can also make Jesse lower taxes and improve public education and fight for the things Minnesotans really care about. Don’t waste your vote on politics as usual.”
The commercial, made by Minneapolis adman Bill Hillsman, was a hit and got plenty of free play in news accounts because of its novel approach.
Fast forward to 2016 and it’s Trump who has been turned into an action-figure doll. But the ad is designed to mock him and is being run in rough-and-tumble South Carolina by chief rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
A few cute kids try to figure out what the doll is about. “He pretends to be a Republican,” one says while others chime in with un-Republican things Trump has done or said over the years.
The narrator asks as the ad closes, “We wouldn’t tolerate these values in our children, why would we want them in a president?”
Reached Wednesday, Hillsman was critical of the copycat ad.
“I don’t think it makes any sense,” he said. “I mean why would kids be talking about things Republicans are or aren’t doing? The premise is ridiculous. In the Jesse action figure commercial it made sense because Jesse used to be a professional wrestler, and Jesse did have action figures made of him.”
“To think kids are going to be messing around with action figures talking about Republican talking points, I mean that’s just ridiculous,” Hillsman said. “Commercials that are interesting to people still have to be grounded in reality, and they still have to be grounded in strategy.”