Kate: Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson recently told GQ there was a "real possibility" he’d run for president. It seemed like a tossed-off gag, except then he reaffirmed the idea on the late-night circuit while promoting Baywatch, and then made his whole SNL monologue into a joke about how, yeah, he actually should run for president. The man hasn’t doubled down on the idea as much as he has elbow-dropped it into reality while impishly raising his beautiful eyebrow. I get the appeal. We already elected a divisive, out-of-shape celebrity personality as president — why not try the extremely fit one everybody likes? Dwayne Johnson is so charismatic that simply typing his name makes me feel simultaneously proud of him, proud of me, and vaguely but persistently horny.
At the same time, though, Johnson, who has zero political experience, absolutely should not be our president. This joke has gone on long enough that it’s transformed from being something fun to think about (President Johnson installing a pull-up bar in the Oval Office!) to scary (President Johnson not wanting to offend anybody because he’s been trained and mightily compensated as an entertainer to calibrate his actions to appeal to the widest possible demographic rather than enact the most helpful public policy, thus reducing the role of president to handsome figurehead and ceding power to an increasingly uncooperative Congress). Don’t vote for the Rock!!!!!
But also: In his acting career, Dwayne Johnson has portrayed a wide variety of rogues, government operatives, rogue government operatives, meatheads with hearts of gold, heartless gold mummy-types, and literal gods. If we’re going to talk about Johnson becoming president, let’s keep it firmly within the bounds of fantasy and discuss which of his fictional characters would make the best one.
Shea: Wait. Just to be clear: What we’re doing is figuring out which of the movie roles the Rock has played would make for the best actual president of the United States of America, right? We’re picking a pretend person to fill a real role?
Kate: Yes, we are taking this whole "Rock should be president" thought exercise to an only-slightly-sillier place and imagining which Rock role should be the real president.
Shea: Are there any special rules or provisions in place for this discussion? For example: Are we allowed to pick his wrestling character, or does it have to be a role that he’s played in a movie? Can we pick the same role more than once? Can we mush pieces of different roles together to form a super-president? Like, can I take how sweet his character from Pain and Gain was and smash that together with the lineage of Hercules? What’s in play and what’s not in play?
Kate: It’s gotta be a role he played in a movie, because his wrestling character bled too much into his early public persona to meaningfully separate the two. We can’t pick the same role more than once because variety is the spice of both life and enjoyable digital content, and NO you cannot mush traits together to create a FrankenRock because thinking about that is confusing and makes my head hurt.
Shea: Great. The main question here (which of the Rock’s roles would make for the best president?) is easy enough to answer, but also very complicated to answer, which is perfect because, philosophically, the Rock today is both simple and complicated. Let’s get started. Should we go straight into it, or should we dance around a bit?
Kate: Let’s dance. It’ll be easier to get to the heart of what makes a great Rock character president and what makes a terrifyingly inept Rock character president if we address some slightly more specific questions first.
Which of the Rock’s roles would make for the worst president?
Kate: Mathayus, the Scorpion King from The Mummy Returns, would be the worst president. He’s a monarchist who demonstrates no enthusiasm for the concept of constitutional democracy, he’s dead (or undead?), and he’s way too into commanding an army of jackals. While Mathayus develops into a sympathetic figure in the prequel The Scorpion King, those things all still stand. Also, since he is an ancient being from ancient Egypt, he definitely wasn’t born in the United States.
Shea: I disagree here, but I suppose I cannot argue too heartily, given the whole He’s Disqualified Due To His Birthplace thing. I will concede this category to you.
If we can ignore that rule, though, I would like to offer Hercules as an alternate, mostly because he allowed his family to be killed, which is a thing that Barack Obama would never have allowed.
Which of the Rock’s roles would seemingly make for a good president but would actually make for a bad president?
Shea: Easy. It has to be Agent Hobbs from the Fast & Furious franchise.
Kate: I agree. Most of the Rock’s law enforcement characters seem, at least on the surface, like they’d have some of the decision-making and stress-management skills required of a good president, none more so than Hobbs. He’s smart, he knows his way around complex government bureaucracies, he’s a good dad, and he also actually seems to view the government as a source of possible public good. But Hobbs is such a crappy judge of character that I wouldn’t want him in office. His longtime nemesis, Deckard Shaw, almost murders him in Fate of the Furious and yet they’re fully buddies by the end of the movie. While the circumstances force them to temporarily put aside their grudge, that’s no reason for Hobbs to completely forget that Deckard is an immoral mercenary demon who murders without remorse. I don’t want a president who forgets his enemies so easily. Kick Deckard out of the Fast Five Family or there’s not a chance in hell Hobbs gets my vote.
Shea: Exactly. All of that is true. And even more than that: While Hobbs remains the most appealing and most exciting law enforcement character the Rock has ever played, let’s not overlook the fact that he is mostly very bad at his job. Over the course of the three movies we’ve seen him in, he:
- Picked a fight with Dominic Toretto and then got beat up by Dominic Toretto in front of everyone.
- Allowed his convoy to get ambushed, resulting in the death of several of his men. (Dominic had to save him.)
- Exhibited horrible judgment of character regarding Shaw, as you mentioned.
- Exhibited zero finesse, and I’m of course talking about how when he was confronted with the idea that the people he was trying to arrest (Brian and Dom) were not guilty of the things they’d been accused of, he simply replied, "I don’t give a shit. I’m just here to bring in two assholes whose name hit my desk." Being a president requires no small amount of nuance. It’d be five, maybe six days of a Hobbs presidency before he suplexed a head of state.
- Was outsmarted on numerous occasions, most egregiously being when he unwittingly allowed a rat into his ultra-elite operation.
- Was not only unable to catch Dom and his team in Fast Five, but also couldn’t catch Owen Shaw or Deckard Shaw in Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7, then couldn’t catch Dom again when he turned bad in Fate of the Furious.
Hobbs’s law-enforcement record is so bad.
Which of the Rock’s roles would seemingly make for a bad president but would actually make for a good president?
Shea: I changed my mind. I would like to disagree with your assertion that Mathayus would make for the worst president. I don’t think that’s the case at all. He seems like he’d be really bad, but actually I think he’d be really good. He has experience as a ruler, which we definitely cannot overlook. He understands the struggles and plights of the common man and is also against cruel and unusual punishment (I’m reminded of that scene in The Scorpion King where he has a chance to kill his enemy but instead lets his enemy live so he can rescue that one kid who’s about to have his hand chopped off for stealing). He has a ponytail, and I just really feel like it’s time we had a president who had a ponytail. Those are three very strong reasons. Now, I will admit that him being able to turn into a scorpion monster is a bit of a bummer, but everyone has faults, you know what I’m saying? Ulysses S. Grant smoked a lot of cigars.
Kate: You make a good point, although I’m gonna hold firm on my "no undead non-American monarchists" rule. My pick is the Rock’s Central Intelligence character, CIA agent Bob Stone (formerly known as Robbie Wierdicht). He initially seems like a bad presidential candidate because he’s a weirdo who doesn’t understand social cues. At the same time, he’s a high-level government strategist and by the end of the movie he seems to have made great strides both in body confidence and interpersonal communication. If anything, his struggles with connecting with people and his innate, goofy goodness would ensure that we’d get something rare: a president completely free of sleaze.
Shea: Dang it. That’s a way better pick. I was wrong. You’re right. I’m out on Mathayus again.
Which of the Rock’s roles is most comparable to our current president?
Kate: Before I tell you my answer I need to tell you a little story. A few years ago, my friend Alex came to the bar late and, kind of shook up, said she’d lost track of time watching an insane movie called Southland Tales. She then described the plot of Southland Tales to me, and I sat transfixed and a little disturbed as she outlined a surreal near-future America in a state of complete geopolitical upheaval, in which a former showbiz doofus gets manipulated by a variety of political factions with their own nutty agendas. I imagine I would’ve had a similar reaction had she described the events of the 2016 presidential election, but either way, I had to see the movie.
So I go and watch Southland Tales, and it’s as bizarre as she’d promised. There’s a cheesy reality star who wants to remake herself as a pundit, neo-Marxist punks, and government surveillance monitoring the whole internet. There are also space-time rifts and Wallace Shawn dressed up like a robot baron while Bai Ling skulks around in a crop top, and Cheri Oteri kills a bunch of people, and Justin Timberlake narrates the whole thing dressed like a drunk person’s memory of Rambo.
The Rock plays Boxer Santaros, a Republican-leaning entertainer who is dumbfounded to find himself in the middle of a surreal America besieged by disaster. He’s this famous dude in wild-eyed tumult ping-ponged around by forces he doesn’t really understand. He reminds me of our current president more than any of the Rock’s other characters: a befuddled figurehead loosed upon fever-dream America.
Shea: Excellent. Can I tell you a story now? Actually, it’s not so much a story as it is just a couple of sentences: Last year, the Rock posted a picture of him and his toddler daughter on Instagram on Labor Day. For the caption, he talked about how he was telling her the importance of hard work and how you should always do everything with pride and dignity and class. Her response: She pooped on him. That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw the prompt for this question.
Which of the Rock’s roles would make for the best first lady?
Kate: The first lady has no actual governing power but nevertheless holds enormous sway over the cultural psyche. With that in mind, the best Dwayne Johnson role to occupy the office would be his turn as Derek Thompson in Tooth Fairy. More specifically, Thompson after he is transformed from an amateur hockey player who is nicknamed "Tooth Fairy" for his habit of knocking other people’s teeth out into a straight-up Tooth Fairy and has to flit around giving small children tooth presents. Tooth Fairy First Lady makes sense. It comes with a built-in across-the-aisle first lady mission, since everybody should support the cause of better dental hygiene for America regardless of political affiliation. Also, those wings would look fabulous at a state dinner.
(Side note: I wonder how the screenwriters for The Santa Clause felt about the plot of Tooth Fairy. I hope they got some "disappointing man gets roped into fantastical gig as mythological childhood gift-purveyor to learn life lessons" residuals.)
Shea: I’m leaning the other direction here. I want a first lady who, sure, technically she doesn’t have governing power, but everyone sort of understands she is definitely running shit. I want a first lady who, should tragedy and devastation happen, is getting in on the action; a first lady who’s going to fly a helicopter between crumbling buildings and drive a boat up a gigantic tidal wave. I want Raymond Gaines from San Andreas as my first lady. He’s the Rock character closest in spirit to Michelle Obama.
Which of the Rock’s roles would make for the best president?
Shea: Bang. The big question.
Kate: In 2013’s Snitch, the Rock plays John Matthews, a construction company owner who becomes a drug ring snitch, which seems like a terrible recipe for presidential success, so much so that I almost put him in the "seems like he would be a bad president but would actually be a good president" category. But the more I thought about it, the more John Matthews pulled ahead to become the best president. Sure, he doesn’t have government experience. But Matthews is the only Rock character who is shown fully grasping the importance of a number of domestic policy issues, including: the downsides of mandatory minimum sentences, the need for comprehensive prison reform, and the importance of better programs for employing ex-convicts. He is good in a crisis, he learns from his mistakes, and he’s a pragmatist rather than an ideologue. Plus, he has experience placating an ornery Susan Sarandon, which is now a prerequisite for any serious American presidential candidate.
Shea: I don’t hate this pick, Kate. In fact, were this the one we ended up with, I would be OK with it. The only real downside I can think of is that you could call his kid a liability, what with his son getting tricked into participating in a drug ring. I don’t think those two things are super, super bad. THAT SAID, they definitely are drawbacks. Knowing there’s a better option there … *imagine me doing a Mark Cuban voice so perfect that you’d swear it was actually Mark Cuban* … for those reasons I’m out. Instead, give me Chris Vaughn from Walking Tall.
Vaughn’s credentials: (1) He’s a former sergeant in the U.S. Army Special Forces, and everyone loves a good military backstory. (2) He survived being tortured, and then fought back, and everyone loves a good fighter. (3) He’s pretty good at pickup football, and football is still America’s most popular sport, so that’s important. (4) He has a very innovative antidrug policy (he beats up drug dealers with a large piece of lumber). (5) When the bad guys whom he beat up took him to court, he fired his attorney midtrial and then gave a speech to the jury so rousing and inspiring that he was cleared of all charges, even though he absolutely did assault those guys, and being good at public speaking is a key presidential quality. (6) Despite having no experience in law enforcement, he was able to win an election against the standing sheriff. (7) He rid the town not only of the casino that was sucking all the life out of it, but he also quelled the town’s rampant drug problem. And, maybe even more important than that, (8) he was able to reopen the town’s mill, generating hundreds of good and meaningful jobs for the residents. He did all of those things in just a few weeks too. Imagine what he could do in four years, or, better still, eight.
I’m not sure how we could land on anyone else but Vaughn. He’s it. He’s the one. Chris Vaughan of Walking Tall is our next great commander-in-chief.