Tuesday’s edition of WWE SmackDown Live ended with something of a surprise. Daniel Bryan was being beaten down by The Bludgeon Brothers when Kane, his former tag team partner, returned to help him out. The day was saved, fans celebrated, and it all felt so familiar that it was easy to miss how weird it was. It wasn’t Kane’s surprise appearance that was weird, as he leaves and returns with some regularity, but the circumstances under which it happened. The man behind the Kane gimmick, Glenn Jacobs, is weeks away from likely becoming the next mayor of Tennessee’s Knox County. Jacobs, a longtime Libertarian and once a prolific blogger in those circles, is running as a Republican after winning the primary by 17 votes.
The idea of any professional wrestler stepping into mayoral duties is not easy to process, but Kane of all people becoming a politician has a unique comic edge. Unlike, say, Jesse Ventura, Kane’s wrestling persona was not simply an amplified version of Glenn Jacobs. Instead, Kane is the younger brother of The Undertaker, and the owner of what is arguably the most complicated and ridiculous backstory in WWE. It goes something like this:
When The Undertaker debuted in 1990, his name was briefly “Kane The Undertaker,” ostensibly a tribute to the brother that he long believed to be dead. In 1997, Undertaker’s former manager, Paul Bearer, claimed that The Undertaker had been playing with matches around the embalming fluid in his parents’ funeral home, causing a huge fire that killed both their parents and Kane. ‘Taker said that it was Kane who started the fire, and that part went by the wayside for a while. Before long, Bearer asserted that Kane is alive, and he proved it by having the baby brother, clad in a leather mask and one-sleeved red bodysuit, cost his brother a match with Shawn Michaels. Undertaker refused to fight Kane, but eventually he did after Kane pretended to like him again. ‘Taker fell for it, and so Kane burnt him alive in a casket. Undertaker returned from that death, as he does, and then beat Kane (who, in the interim, shot lightning at people) a couple times. Somewhere in there it’s revealed that Bearer was seduced by the pair’s mother and is Kane’s biological father, which everyone handles pretty well, all things considered.
Inexplicably, the brothers then became buddies so that one of them could win Steve Austin’s world title. None of that really pans out, and eventually Kane becomes a good guy and ‘Taker admits to deliberately starting the fire himself to kill Kane and their parents. They went back and forth a bit as far as being friends or enemies and their own relationship stopped mattering as much since they often had separate storylines. Kane, who had by then shed the sleeves and switched to a partially sheer tank top with no burns visible, puts his mask up against Triple H for a title shot, loses, and reveals that his hair is a wig. The “burns” from that childhood fire amount to scorch marks on his face; they disappear the next week and it later turns out that he had a Dr. Doom thing going on. Years later, a fake Kane shows up in Kane’s original outfit for some reason but is quickly dispatched, although Kane himself eventually returned wearing a terrible version of the mask with a worse wig for some reason. Another thing worth noting is that Kane has a split personality issue such that sometimes he unmasks and becomes a corporate flunky for some reason. More recently, he went to anger management with Daniel Bryan so they could become a tag team that hugs it out.
With 21 years of tenure in the gimmick—he’s been with WWE for almost 23 years total—Glenn Jacobs is and has long been one of the more widely beloved performers within WWE. You never hear about him being involved in any backstage drama and everyone at every level raves how easy he is to work with. Even on the largely negative Art of Wrestling podcast episode during which CM Punk explains why he left WWE, he made a point to single out how much he “loved wrestling Glenn” and how “nobody ever has a bad thing to say about him.”
How good Jacobs is from bell to bell is, from a fan perspective, a much more divisive topic. He doesn’t have a long trail of great matches, but also he was boxed in as the vaguely demonic brother of a vaguely undead funeral director for much of that time. He noticeably slowed down due to age and injuries a few years ago, but Kane was at his best, both in the ring and as a personality, when he was nothing like the monstrous character that the gimmick required. The Kane who was more of a straight/serious wrestler in the ring could absolutely have great matches, while the version who would do hug-based comedy shtick with Daniel Bryan was the more entertaining personality.
So, politically speaking, is the real Glenn Jacobs closer to the demonic monster the corporate flunky? He doesn’t seem terribly eager to answer that question on his campaign website. That site reveals basically no policy positions beyond a list of “7 issues that Matter to Knox County” on the main page:
- Committed to keeping taxes low
- Renewed focus on quality of education
- Continue to attract new jobs to the area
- Improve our roads and infrastructure
- Full and absolute transparency
- Work to create safer communities
- A fresh outlook on limited government
Bold stuff. But while Jacobs’ campaign website doesn’t reveal much about the politician he might be, he’s already revealed a bit about what he believes in recent years. It’s not exactly a secret that Jacobs was as longtime blogger on libertarian-themed websites as both himself and “Citizen X.” Even still, going back over those blogs shows him to be adherent to some basic libertarian positions; his self-identification as a “liberty-leaning conservative” and willingness to compare himself to Rand Paul, Thomas Massie, and Justin Amash helps round out the picture somewhat.
It’s relatively difficult to get a handle on where exactly he stands based on how he’s campaigned, too. His Twitter has a dearth of political content other than some basic support for local Republicans and non-controversial bills like the “right to try” legislation to let terminally ill patients try experimental drugs that have passed Phase I clinical trials. Famously liberal former coworker Mick Foley gave Jacobs his seal of approval, but didn’t mention any non-personal or issues-based reasons for doing so. Any attempt to find out what Glenn Jacobs thinks about politics inevitably leads back to his occasional Fox News hits and old blog posts.
In 2012, Jacobs expressed frustration with the state of American health care in a notably muddled fashion. He appeared to misunderstand the laws about emergency rooms, for instance, saying that “health care facilities cannot refuse treatment to patients who have no insurance,” and groused about the way in which the Affordable Care Act was passed. Surprisingly, though, he seemed positive on the new law in general. “There are several other issues that plague the health care industry itself, but America may finally be on the path to end the debate,” he wrote. Not exactly the position you would expect, though the brevity and general spottiness of the blog leaves open the possibility that he was praising the ACA for being so solicitous to the insurance industry.
More recently, when interviewed by Neil Cavuto on Fox News last month, Jacobs performed the ritual praising of the President that’s now required of virtually all Republican candidates. “I think Trump’s done a very good job,” Jacobs told Cavuto. “Especially with the economy, and we see he’s cut regulation, I think the tax cuts really help spur some growth.” Jacobs added that he’s against Tennessee’s gas tax hike as part of his limited government stance, explaining that his opposition is in large part because he feels that the money never goes where it’s supposed to. “I think, as Republicans, we need to stick by what we believe in,” Jacobs said later in the interview. “And that is fiscal conservatism and individual freedom. And I think what happens is when Republicans get in positions of power, they forget about that. And in many cases, they become part of the problem. I’m not worried about a ‘blue wave,’ I just think Republicans have to act like Republicans and govern like Republicans.” Again, bracing stuff you just can’t get anywhere else.
There are aspects of libertarianism that are significantly outside the current political mainstream, and while Jacobs is smart enough to avoid those in a softball interview like the one he had with Cavuto, he hasn’t completely concealed his beliefs. A Knoxville News-Sentinel opinion piece points out that Jacobs is not exactly the center-right politician he’s making himself out to be—for instance, he’s referred to anyone who benefits from publicly funded programs as “the parasitic sector” and has appeared on Alex Jones’s conspiracy clearinghouse InfoWars to discuss “the state’s monopoly on currency.”
Linda Haney, Jacobs’ Democratic Party rival for the mayoral seat, noted in a phone call for this article that while they share an interest in the key issues of education and infrastructure, Jacobs doesn’t really present ideas for how to get there. Haney personally emailed this reporter a list of policies, while Jacobs’ campaign manager declined to provide any for his candidate.
Regardless, Jacobs goes into the August 2 election as the favorite; Knox County is very red, he’s running as a Republican, and that might be that. Knox County is red enough, in fact, that his campaign probably should have at least mentioned Kane’s old “Big Red Machine” nickname. Maybe they forgot about that part of his backstory. Admittedly, it’s a lot to keep straight.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and everywhere else that podcasts are available. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix.