The Progressive Liberal, a popular professional wrestling gimmick in the Appalachian regional independent circuit, has gone mainstream. Daniel Harnsberger, who wrestles as Daniel Richards, came up with the gimmick a few years ago and received a huge boost when the popular Deadspin website featured it earlier this week. Sports Illustrated spoke to Richards to learn more about his pro wrestling persona.
"I thought of it three and a half years ago," said Richards.
"I never really had a platform to try it because I'd wrestle what they refer to as spot shows—there was no one running weekly that I was working for, or even running monthly. Then I was deep in the heart of West Virginia in this small, unincorporated town called Sabine. It was a small crowd and I had freedom to do whatever I wanted that night, so I just decided to get on the mic—and this is maybe a couple months after Trump started running. Who knew the guy was gonna be president? So I did this interview on the house mic and I said, 'If he's elected president, I hope Trump doesn't build a wall around Mexico. Instead I hope he builds it around this town so none of you people can infiltrate the population.' The ire that statement got, I knew I was onto something. Even then, those fans were chanting, 'Trump! Trump! Trump!'"
The Progressive Liberal isn't just a gimmick to Richards as he leans hard politically to the left. Richards has frequently used the gimmick while working shows promoted by Appalachian Mountain Wrestling in areas that overwhelming favor conservatism.
"I voted for Hillary. I definitely wanted her to pull it out," Richards explained. "Three million more people voted for her than Trump, but we have this electoral college, which I've never understood, even when I was a kid. It just makes it to where only a few states matter. I'm lucky I live in Virginia for that reason. When I go to vote, it's like OK, this matters. Whereas if I live in West Virginia or lived in California on the other end, no matter how I vote, the Democrats can win California and the Republicans can win West Virginia. The popular vote would be a better deal. Everyone's vote would be equal."
Richards was confident Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump in last November's Presidential Election. When Trump won, Richards wondered if his days as "The Progressive Liberal" Daniel Richards were finished. As it's turned out, the gimmick has only gained steam.
"I thought Hillary would win, as a lot of people did, and then I would be able to gloat and that would be great," Richards said. "Then when Trump won I was like, man, is this finished? Is this not gonna matter anymore? Nope. It's made the reaction stronger, because the fans have something to laugh at me about and jeer me for, like right off the bat. I still wear my Hillary shirt because my sentiment is, well, the election is rigged. It was rigged, after all. Trump would always say it and yeah, he knew it."
Richards said he has to stick to the general talking points to draw heat as he believes his right leaning detractors do not pay attention to stories that shed their political party in a negative light.
"One thing with the fanbase is that Trump supporters don't seem to pay a lot of attention to details, especially if it's negative coverage towards their boy," said Richards. "So I have to stick with very general talking points. I'll say, 'You've traded your red, white, and blue American flag for a Russian flag,' and that's as far as I can go into detail. I can't be like, 'You hear about Flynn pleading the fifth?' No one would get it. We've tried it before. Like in Kentucky they're wanting to go to charter schools and despite that being the Betsy DeVos-Republican policy and a hot-button issue in general, I tried it in a live interview in front of a live crowd and it got no reaction. Specifics don't matter. You stick to general stuff."
The Progressive Liberal is in his late 30s and understands he's probably too old for a career in WWE but his dream would be fulfilled even if he was used as an enhancement talent.
"I'm about to turn 37. WWE is not looking for 37-year-old guys," said Richards. "But the whole idea of a goal is for it to be challenging but achievable. I think this leans much more heavily on challenging, but at this point in my career I just want to be on their TV one time. I'd love to be in a match where I'm going against one of their guys, obviously probably putting them over. But to be on Raw one time or SmackDown would be amazing. No one can take that away from me."
Richards is six-feet five-inches tall, weighing 240 pounds and hails from Midlothian, Virginia. He made his professional wrestling debut in 2009 and was trained by Jimmy Garvin and Scotty McKeever. His finisher is called the Liberal Agenda.
"It's just a cross-arm neckbreaker, so if I'm standing in front of you, I'm grabbing each of your wrists, crossing your arms, then twisting you for a standard neckbreaker," Richards explained. "I call that the Liberal Agenda so then the announcer says, 'Oh, he hit him with his Liberal Agenda!'"
You can read more quotes from Richards in his exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated by clicking here.