Q&A: Romney Face Tattoo Guy Games the 2016 Field and Discusses His New Signature Issue

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Eric Hartsburg, 30, poses for a photo showing his Romney-Ryan election logo tattoo Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 in Michigan City, Ind. Hartsburg, a professional wrestler, said he hoped the 5-by-2-inch tattoo would make politics more fun and had initially resigned himself to keeping it, but he is now planning to have it removed. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
Photo: Teresa Crawford/AP/Corbis

Thirty-two-year-old Eric Hartsburg became one of the most recognizable faces of the 2012 election when he got a red-and-blue R, the symbol for Mitt Romney’s failed campaign, tattooed next to his right eyebrow. The professional wrestler got the tattoo as a gimmick — he tells Daily Intelligencer that he wasn’t a huge fan of Romney, but thought he was the better of the two choices — but quickly grew disillusioned with his chosen candidate when he showed himself to be a “sore loser.” After numerous rounds of laser treatment, the tattoo is still visible, but is much lighter than it was in campaign season. Today his pro-wrestling career is on hold because of injuries, and he is living with his grandmother following the death of his wife from an unexpected turn in a chronic medical condition.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Hartsburg spoke about politics and ink, before wrapping up the conversation so he could go pick up medicine for his 90-year-old grandmother.

So Romney’s running again? What are your thoughts?
My thoughts were, you know, that instantly there was this connection. I was just walking by the television and it was on, and there was a connection, Romney’s run and the tattoo. And then instantly it was like, well, who gives a shit? I think I shouldn’t say that, but really, who cares? Really, who gives a shit? If he gets the nomination, he’s gonna say something to mess it up. Great that there’s a bunch of people who can make some money and run around and do things, but not all the way to actual Election Day, you know, because he’s gonna say something and he’s gonna fuck it up. Or screw it up, or whatever’s printable nowadays.

Why do you think he’s going to screw it up?
The whole 47 percent comment, whatever the hell it was before, it’s like — this is the biggest moment of your life. The biggest moment. You have it, here it is, it’s close, you’re running neck-and-neck with the most popular — you know, Obama was stadiums full of people and you’re running against this guy and you can do it and you screw it up. I don’t care what you think personally, but if you’re stupid enough to mess up the biggest moment of your life, I don’t want you running mine.

When did your mind really change around Romney as a candidate?
Honestly, I thought he was the lesser of two evils. If I’d have went out and tattooed Obama on my head, there would have been no story there. But the Republican point of view, and somebody saying, “Republican-this-or-that” and then putting that on their head … I’ve seen Obama tattoos in my own little community here in Indiana, so there’s no story there. But the Romney tattoo, there was some story there. So I mean, I was behind him, sure, because I thought he was better for the economy and that that was important then. Right now I think the most successful candidate should be somebody more for gender equality, gay rights. I think that’s the civil-rights movement of our time. That’s at the forefront for me.

Why women’s rights and gay rights? How’d you get interested in that?
That’s always been an interest of mine. I’ve always had a lot of gay friends growing up and, it was just, you know, never something that was for me.  I don’t know why I had to say that, like there’s something wrong with it. Now I’m going to get quoted saying that and I’m going to sound like an idiot. Yeah, let’s not print that. But I had a lot of gay and lesbian friends growing up. For some reason, I’ve always connected with people who felt they were different so, always, it’s always been something for me. I got the pink stars; I tattooed my face. Be yourself. So people who wanted to be their selves, I’ve always seemed to crowd with those people. I don’t think they should feel like second-class citizens in their own country. There’s no reason why anybody for any reason should have to hide their sexuality.

Do you have any favorites for 2016?
I find Chris Christie really interesting, and then, let’s see … Marco Rubio, just because I’d like to hear what he has to say, and of course Hillary, you know, I’d like to hear that point of view from that side. I just know that Jeb Bush kind of creeps me out. I don’t know, I just can’t get behind that. I don’t know if it’s the way he looks, the way he talks, but he just … I don’t think he’s fit; I think he’ll blow it, too, at some point. I spent junior Bush’s entire presidency waiting for him to prove everybody wrong and prove me right, that he had some sort of sensible thought or sensible way to put his words together to throw everybody off. He just continually disappointed me the whole time. So Jeb, I definitely can’t. Like, Jeb Bush is in the lead? I don’t know about this.

What do you think of Obama?
Life hasn’t really, for me, personally, in the lower class, life hasn’t changed for me. So I can’t really comment. It’s pretty much some of the same old thing.

What did you hope to have change?
I don’t know. They say, “Oh, well, unemployment’s not as bad as it could be or should be,” you know, that he’s done an okay job at that. Everybody that I knew that wasn’t working, that was hurting — everybody is still hurting. What I see locally is all I can really comment on, to be honest. I think that he reacted well to the Sony Picture thing … He should have come out sooner, of course, but that was handled right.

So I have to ask about that tattoo. Is it gone?
It’s still there. Very lightly, very faint, because I had a treatment, had it lasered off in L.A., and a treatment in New York. So it’s faint but it still, it’s still there and very recognizable, for the most part.

Do you ever try to cover it up?
Oh no, I’m not ashamed of it. I would definitely be open to covering it up now. I wasn’t going to get it removed, but then [TV producers] were like, “Well, remove it. You can come here to L.A. and we’ll pay you to come out here to remove it” — you know, have it done on film for whatever it was, Inside Edition or Extra or one of those damn shows. “We’ll pay you to do it.” Well, yeah, I’ll take it off, I’ll go to L.A. and, you know, have lunch with Peter Brady or whatever the hell his name is. Yeah, I’ll go out there and at least I’ll have a story to tell, you know? But no, I didn’t really ever push to have it removed. They just kept on, kept on — you know, the Twitters and the emails, “have it removed.” Well, if you’re going to pay to do it, why not?

This interview has been condensed and edited.