Did Donald Trump anticipate having to fulfil a campaign promise so soon? After calling the 2012 Republican convention “the most boring I’ve ever seen”, he promised that his own nomination would involve “more showbiz”. While nobody could call him a bigot for saying that, difficulties did arise quickly.
A look at any media would reveal that most actors and singers aren’t well-disposed to the GOP, Trump or no Trump. Of the well-known entertainers who identify as conservatives, not all of them were willing to be seen with the nominee. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who spoke for Bush in 2004) was a supporter of John Kasich. Trump’s final opponent. Mickey Rourke, a Ben Carson fan, referred to Trump as a “big mouthed bitch bully”. With Clint Eastwood presumably unavailable to interrogate a chair again, the screen celebrities chosen to promote Donald Trump’s candidacy were…Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato Jr.
Whether or not Trump attracts celebrity fans may seem like a small point, compared to his ability to spark violence at rallies or his success at pushing plans for a Muslim ban into mainstream political rhetoric. But it matters, because Trump is harnessing celebrity culture itself.
Trump has long been making guest appearances in films (Home Alone 2, Zoolander) and WWE Wrestling. But more recently, in queuing up to mock his policies, hair and fingers, countless entertainers are inadvertently contributing to Donald’s own notorious celebrity. Johnny Depp has impersonated him. The magazine Slate has even dedicated an (albeit extremely critical) podcast to him.
The Democrats may have had the first black POTUS and be preparing the first female one, but the Republicans have a true A-lister as their nominee. As an actor, he puts Ronald Reagan in the shade.
As a celebrity, Trump can make celebrities out of whoever he chooses, and give them good or bad press along the way. Who will remember Jeb Bush for his Floridian governorship, and not the character assassination Trump subjected him to? Trump’s latest endeavour is to be the PR man for a group of Benghazi veterans, who are critical of his rival, Hillary Clinton. They have tried to tell their story before, through the book and film 13 Hours, but it was Trump that opened the door to the national stage.
Trump has even built up a celebrity aura, where commentators attribute just about any gains in polls to his Art of the Deal strategising.
Not only should this worry the Democratic party, but it has a celebrity problem of its own.
The expectation was for Democrat celebrities to line up behind Hillary Clinton, but not all are doing so, and then, not quietly. Susan Sarandon refused to transfer her allegiance and claimed that she would be “more dangerous” than Trump in terms of foreign policy. Perhaps, in a media industry that exists to make money, actors are learning that disparaging half their audience is not good for the box office.
Bernie Sanders himself pointed out the “obscene” way in which his opponent palled around with the Hollywood elite, away from middle-class Americans. Earning the approval of the rich and famous had drawbacks if it loses you the arguments on trade and jobs.
Clinton is famous, but her fame does not have that stardust quality that makes it celebrity, and rubbing shoulders with the glitterati won’t be enough. If she wants the showbiz touch, she will need to find it within herself.