Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, a popular but second-rate Hollywood actor and real estate developer/reality TV host, became President of the United States. But her rise to the White House is not the rule, it’s the exception. And celebrities winning elections is an aberration; it shouldn’t be a blueprint.
Trump’s endorsement of two celebs this year will end with mixed results at best. His Pennsylvania choice, famed TV doctor Mehmet Oz, lost to John Fetterman, a man whose stroke aftermath rocked him on the debate stage days before the election as he addressed the crowd with, “Hello, good night, everyone ‘ greeted.
Trump’s Georgia confirmation is former soccer superstar Herschel Walker, who failed to fend off incumbent Raphael Warnock, and now the two will face off again in a December 6 runoff, with the outcome crucial to the balance of power in the Senate.
Many Republicans, frustrated by the failure to materialize the much-anticipated Red Wave that would give them crucial control of both houses and propel them to retake the White House in 2024, are making Trump square for theirs responsible for reduced yields. But it’s not that easy.
Has Trump’s immersion in Republican campaigns across the country helped or hurt the party? Actually both. It’s important to note that Trump is, above all, a showman. Image is everything for him. He wants to emphasize his importance as a kingmaker. Accordingly, as critics are fond of pointing out, he often supports candidates who are already front runners, thereby topping up his track record. But he’s also raising candidates from obscurity, like he did most famously in 2018 with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who just won re-election in a big way and seems to have a very bright future in presidential politics.
Trump’s base of MAGA Republicans clearly adores him and will unconditionally do his will, but it’s difficult to determine who comprises that base. The group that would vote for Trump again in 2024 if he is the GOP nominee is much larger than the subgroup that believes he walks on water and can do no wrong. This smaller group will vote for Oz and Walker just because Trump says so, not so much the larger one.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that political endorsements only go so far. For example, although Ronald Reagan is my all-time favorite President, he encouraged Americans — albeit lukewarmly — to vote for George HW Bush in both 1988 and 1992, but I opposed him both times.
Times are different now. The two major parties have retreated, showing the sharpest contrast between them since the days of the Civil War. Just 15 years ago I would have voted for the best candidate regardless of the party. No longer. I’m tuned into Newt Gingrich’s philosophy of looking at the big picture: party control in both houses of Congress and in the White House. That will prevent the Democrats from getting their way, which I find increasingly worrying. And many Democrats share the same sentiment, so it’s understandable that they voted for Fetterman, knowing full well that unless he makes a significant recovery, he’s medically unfit for office.
Interestingly, the group that has the most influence in determining close elections is the most overlooked: political independents, aptly referred to as “swing voters”. They don’t think in terms of party dominance; rather, they vote from candidate to candidate.
They are the ones who vote for some Trump endorsers but not others. Not coincidentally, those who don’t choose them are celebrities.
By and large, American voters value experience. They value dignified candidates who possess gravitas. That’s a big reason they picked the ailing Biden in 2020, and if Hillary Clinton wasn’t so universally despicable, they would have voted her, too. They only use carnival screamers with catchy sayings from time to time.
In the case of Reagan and Trump, they have solidified their presidential candidacy for decades. It wasn’t during a break from filming “Bedtime for Bonzo” (in Reagan’s case) or “The Apprentice” (in Trump’s case) that they decided on a whim to try their hand at “president,” like George did W. Bush retired after he started painting. Reagan and Trump, despite being characterized as affective, pseudo-intellectual snobs as simpletons, unlike Oz and Walker, formulated and refined strong opinions on a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues.
A fixture of the New York metropolitan area, Oz practically strolled off the set of his TV show and began affectionately referring to Pennsylvania as “the Commonwealth”; the locals didn’t buy it. Walker ran away from his personal life with troubling baggage, including more than one ex-girlfriend who said he paid for her to have their unborn child aborted, despite his staunch pro-lifer stance. Like Pennsylvania, Georgia is purple. You can field marginal candidates in reliably red Oklahoma and Wyoming, but not many places beyond. Heck, even the bruises in Texas grow like weeds on a red lawn.
Trump should have been more cautious about supporting stronger candidates. It’s not a binary choice between quality and loyalty. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, for example, accepted Trump as party leader after a hard-fought primary in 2016 and have stood by him. No matter how one thinks of their politics, they are clearly not empty suits.
To get away with outrageously harsh remarks, breaking norms only works for the elite. Muhammad Ali won with his hands held dangerously low. Giannis Antetokounmpo takes up to five steps to the basket, but is not called to travel. And Trump says he likes war heroes who don’t get captured because he can; most others can’t.
Celebrity politics isn’t a good blueprint. Athletes and entertainers, please stay in your lanes.