So, round three of the Republican presidential nomination fight begins tonight in Boulder, Colorado, with two more debates fuelled by madness and improbability. For the first time since the campaign began, the focus will be on self-promotion king Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the mild-mannered former neurosurgeon whose rise in the polls would only seem impossible if this were not the Republican presidential campaign of 2016 and the world were not spinning wildly off its axis.
Carson recently overtook Trump in Iowa and even in some national polling, so expect the real estate mogul to come out lashing at his new rival like he’s done to any other candidate whose numbers have dared to get near his—with shots at Carson’s leadership skills, his energy level, even his looks. And expect Carson to respond the way he always does; calmly, quietly, and respectfully, like a counter-puncher trying to corral a blitzer in a prizefight.
To help them prepare for the slog of what is shaping up to be an improbable 12-round fight between two political neophytes, Trump and Carson have recently begun seeking out, or at least basking in, the endorsements of actual fighters. That the two fighters in question, former boxing kingpin Mike Tyson for Trump and current UFC middleweight contender Vitor Belfort for Carson, have checkered pasts doesn’t seem to bother the Carson and Trump campaigns. An endorsement is an endorsement, especially when it comes from a public figure who hurts other men for a living, implying, by association, the toughness and masculinity of the candidate being endorsed. Besides, the stories of Belfort and Tyson fit nicely with the narratives Carson and Trump are building their campaigns on: Carson is the former lost soul who, like Belfort, was born again as an evangelical Christian; and Donald Trump, like Mike Tyson, is the shameless attention-addict from the 1980s given to violent verbal outbursts and fits of megalomaniacal delusion.
Tyson, as Tyson does, came out fast and hard and incomprehensible for Trump on Monday, telling The Huffington Post that Trump deserves to be president because he’s a successful businessman and America should be run like a business, “where no color matters. Whoever can do the job gets the job.” Tyson then went on to defend Trump’s inflammatory language about Hispanic immigrants, calling the candidate’s racist words merely “crude,” before going on a lengthy rant about Barack Obama, John F. Kennedy, the other Republican candidates, bribery, his indifference to the N-word, envy, sadness, the “ethnic world,” the racist foundations of the country, his lack of desire to “kill a guy and cut him up and attack him like a savage beast,” and Univision.
In short, it was a classic Mike Tyson rant and just the kind of pseudo-political, media-savvy overload that Trump adores more than anything in this world.
Tyson knows that world, too. Maybe his endorsement is yet another leg on his decade-long image-redemption tour. Tyson’s middle-age fame resurgence has been based almost entirely on admitting past collapses, opening the door for that elusive second act in American life, and maybe he wants to make things right with Trump because it fits his narrative so perfectly.
For example, there was a moment there at the peak of his boxing powers in mid-1988 when Tyson actually could have gone with Trump as his “business advisor.” At the time Trump was taking advantage of vagaries in New Jersey law to make himself into a sort of one-man casino-owner/event-impresario/promoter/manager/fighter-advisor, blurring the moral lines of an already blurry game and creating all kinds of conflicts of interest for fighters like Mike Tyson, who was coming off a huge, and hugely profitable, win over Michael Spinks at Trump’s Plaza Casino in Atlantic City. When Tyson decided to go into business with Don King instead of Trump a few months later, Trump sent the fighter an invoice for $2 million, claiming he’d helped the fighter break his less-than-advantageous managerial contract with Bill Cayton, reducing Cayton’s cut of Tyson’s purses from 33% to 22%. “Over the course of your career I have probably saved you in excess of $50 million,” Trump wrote to Tyson. “Therefore the $2 million contribution, all of which will go to worthy charities, is very reasonable.”
Tyson didn’t listen, though, and ended up getting screwed out of enormous sums of money by Don King before finally suing the promoter more than a decade later for $100 million, eventually settling for S14 million, all of which went to debtors, ex-wives, and the IRS.
And then! But still!—as if to prove to Iron Mike that there were no hard feelings between them, four years after the invoice incident, Trump, soon to be a tough-on-crime presidential candidate, proposed in public that Tyson be allowed to give “millions and millions” of dollars to rape victims in lieu of going to prison for the rape of a Miss Black America contestant. Defending his much-maligned cash-for-conviction plan, Trump said at the time, “The case could be made, ‘Well, you shouldn’t be able to buy yourself out,’ as perhaps the prosecutor would say. But a lot more people can benefit by what I’m suggesting than by throwing a man in jail.”
So, if you were Mike Tyson wouldn’t you be inclined to endorse Donald Trump for president too, the man who helped you get out of a nasty contract, who tried to steer you clear of the machinations of Don King, who was willing to suggest corrupting the entire American judicial system to keep you out of prison, and who sent you a very reasonable bill for his services?
What can Ben Carson say in response to such American outlandishness? That he met up with a mildly famous mixed martial artist whose greatest sin is a couple of dalliances with performance-enhancing substances? That he accepted the endorsement of a man who, like Carson, has been reborn in the love of Jesus Christ? That he went to Belfort’s new gym in Coconut Creek, Florida, to take a few pictures, say a few prayers, and “talk to a champion of the mind and how that translates into success in an arena like this and get an idea of what kind of mindset goes behind that”?
Ben Carson, for all his improbable political success, is just a tourist in a world Donald Trump is the king of. He has much to learn about the true power of celebrity and controversy in American political life. It’s all well and good to hold hands with a known cheater, Ben, but it’s quite another to throw your arms around a known felon you once tried to keep out of prison and then dare the world not to love you for it!
Take a page from the Book of Trump and go big, Ben! Don’t just hang out with fighters; learn something from them. Why play it cool when you can play it sociopathic, scaring your opponents into losing before the contest even begins? Why not bring up your own violent past during tonight’s debate, titillating voters and intimidating your opponents into paralysis the way Tyson and Belfort did at the peak of their powers? You could tell us about those times as a teenager when you would “go after people with rocks and bricks and baseball bats and hammers.” Or how you once tried to stab a friend in the abdomen with a knife and only realized later how horrified you were at the prospect of murdering someone because then you’d never be able to realize your “dreams of becoming a surgeon.” And then how you locked yourself “in the bathroom and started praying” until it all went away.
Tell that story, tonight, Ben, and watch your numbers climb (Republican primary voters will only love you more, both for your murderous rage and your resulting religious repentance) and your opponents retreat in a moment, like Wanderlei Silva collapsing before Vitor Belfort in 1997, like the entire world fleeing Mike Tyson in the 80s.
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