From the Ring to the Beltway: Linda McMahon Preps for Federal Role Under Trump

Dec 28, 2016

Connecticut’s own Linda McMahon goes to Washington next year, hoping to be confirmed as head of the Small Business Administration. She was tapped recently by President-elect Donald Trump, a longtime friend who she supported during the campaign.

But what will the former wrestling magnate bring to her new role as cheerleader for small businesses? 

If you’ve followed any of Linda McMahon’s career, you'll be familiar with the longtime, occasionally violent family soap opera she played out in the wrestling rings of the WWE.  

Or maybe you paid attention as the World Wrestling Entertainment founder and executive remade her image to run for U.S. Senate – twice, in two of the most expensive campaigns in history, costing a combined $100 million.

Connecticut voters didn’t buy it; McMahon lost by 12 points each time. 

Now she’s back in the political ring, this time as an appointee of the incoming Trump administration. She and her husband Vince have been some of the biggest contributors to Trump's charitable foundation, and she gave at least $6 million to a PAC supporting his election bid.

What kind of cabinet member might she make?

“Committed, thoughtful, smart," said Fran Pastore. She runs the Women's Business Development Council in Stamford, and has known McMahon for several years. "She is a person who means what she says, and says what she means.”

McMahon has been a donor and supporter of Pastore's agency in the past.

“I really believe that she cares about women’s economic equity. I really believe that she cares about leveling the playing field for women," Pastore told WNPR. "And I hope that now that she has the chance on a national level, I have very high hopes she will do that.”

Pastore’s agency provides training for women entrepreneurs, and is partially funded by the Small Business Administration.

The administration has a $710 million budget, and a mandate to lend to and support small businesses. Last year it facilitated loans to at least 700,000 firms.

Pastore believes there will be a to-do list for McMahon in her new role. “It is a complicated agency that is in desperate need of modernization,” she said.

But there are some who’ve followed McMahon’s WWE career who believe that any modernization she undertakes might not be in the best interests of everyone.

“I think if you look at her track record she’s definitely shown a willingness to cut costs, cut red tape,” said David Cowley, an attorney in Louisville, Kentucky.

A childhood wrestling fan, at Brandeis Law School he wrote a Law Review paper examining the employment practices of the WWE. He points particularly to the longtime controversy over whether the WWE’s wrestlers should be viewed as employees, or independent contractors.

“As independent contractors they don’t get a number of protections that they would had they been classified as employees, and it’s tough to think of a more dangerous job where you’re more likely to be hurt, or you’re more likely to suffer problems after retirement,” he said.

Cowley believes its possible to draw a line between McMahon’s business experience and what might be her priorities in government. “She’s shown an indifference, and sometimes even a disdain for regulations that would make life a little bit more difficult for employers. Often that comes at the expense of the employees themselves,” he said.

But McMahon is also garnering support from unexpected quarters.

Her first senate campaign in 2010, was a bruising contest with then state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Things got personal, and nasty on the campaign trail, but now Blumenthal, newly elected to his second term, said he’s willing to give his old opponent the benefit of the doubt.

“She has insights and experience in business creation and growth," he told WNPR. "Job creation is particularly important to Connecticut. My hope is that she will bring a stable and sane economic policy to an administration that clearly needs rational and thoughtful economic leadership.”

McMahon herself pitches her career as one where she took a small, ailing business and turned it into a multi-million dollar international enterprise with 800 employees. So far, she has not commented on how she sees her new federal role, but she said during her senate campaigns that she believes in rolling back the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, and cutting business taxes.