Why Democrats are pinning their White House hopes on a celebrity-in-chief

Reagan, Trump… Oprah? Damian Reilly examines the star-spangled race to replace Donald Trump

Features

21 Feb 2018

Donald Trump’s rise to the most powerful man in the world was the ultimate one-in-the-eye to career politicians. And indeed, why should a celebrity not be running the show? Countries, these days, are effectively big corporations, so who better to rule over them than someone who knows how to create a brand and turn a buck? Someone rich, successful, charismatic, bullish and self-made? If celebrities can conquer the most competitive industries on earth, then surely they can conquer politics, too? And don’t we want people who are special making the big decisions; on healthcare and infrastructure and, you know, nuclear war?

In fact, celebrities have not, for many years, been strangers to American politics. Think former president Ronald Reagan, ex-governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood, who was mayor of Carmel. But so far it’s been the Republicans who have harnessed the power of celebrity most effectively. The Democrats’ biggest draw, by contrast, is probably Al Franken — a comedian who doesn’t really qualify as A-list and who anyway stepped down as a Senator for Minnesota at the start of this year.

All that could be about to change. Hollywood filmmaker and hardcore Democrat Michael Moore has been telling anyone who’ll listen that it’s time his side wheeled out its biggest guns to do battle with the Trump machine come the next presidential election. ‘We need to run a beloved American in 2020,’ he said last year. ‘And who wouldn’t vote for Tom Hanks?’ Meanwhile, chatshow host Oprah Winfrey’s emotive acceptance speech at January’s Golden Globes has been taken by many as a marker of her intent to run — even in spite of her denials.

So America’s high-stakes political game is being played by stars who believe the Oval Office is big enough to house their egos. Who, then, might pose a credible threat to Donald Trump for 2020?

OPRAH WINFREY

Wealth: $3bn
Twitter followers: 41.4m
Odds: 20/1

If you need a hug — and since Donald Trump became President, there are a lot of Democrats who do — then who better to give you one than Oprah? The chatshow host’s boundless warmth and ability to empathise has made her fantastically rich and earned her armies of fans across all demographics, particularly women. Despite her studied humility, the 64-year-old certainly has the ego to run (she once told interviewer Piers Morgan her purpose on Earth was simply to ‘evolve the consciousness of people everywhere’). Barring scandal, there’s no reason that Winfrey couldn’t draw the kind of voters to the polling booths in swing states like Michigan and Ohio that Hillary Clinton didn’t manage. But while she might be perceived by Trump loyalists as everything that’s wrong with modern politicians — schmaltzy, sentimental and too concerned with image — the Winfrey bandwagon, should it start rolling in earnest, could pose a real threat to the Donald’s chances of a second term. She’s already denied she will run — but then so did Hillary Clinton. Numerous times. ›

TOM HANKS

Wealth: $350m
Twitter followers: 15.2m
Odds: 100/1

No one seems more surprised than Tom Hanks by calls for him to become America’s Commander-in-Chief. (‘Just because I’m an actor, I can give a good speech. But the concept of voting for someone just because they can do that?’) The clamour for the 61-year-old Hollywood star to run for president began in November 2016 after his speech at a ceremony to honour him in New York. It proved balm for the soul of Democrats tortured by the reality of Trump in the White House (‘This too shall pass’ was the gist). Hanks has also been vocal in his
disavowal of the President’s meditation on the power of male fame (‘grab ’em by the pussy’-gate), stating that the comments offended him ‘as a guy’. So far, the Forrest Gump actor has made light of suggestions he could become president, proposing instead he should be vice-president to Oprah. He says he’d consider it ‘as long as I get to ride shotgun in Marine One, and that means fly it, the presidential helicopter, with Oprah in the back. I want a helmet and the whole bit’.

KANYE WEST

Wealth: $145m
Twitter followers: 27m (before deleting account)
Odds: 100/1

Rapper Kanye West announced at the 2015 Video Music Awards that he would run for president in 2020 (he also said in the same speech that he was high). The 40-year-old, who is married to social media behemoth Kim Kardashian, has since then gone mad. He was admitted to hospital for several days at the end of 2016 following a psychotic episode that ended with him ranting on stage in Sacramento. After getting out of hospital, he was one of the then President-elect Trump’s first celebrity visitors, stating afterwards: ‘I feel it is important to have a direct line of communication with our future President.’ Despite having not said one discernibly sane thing for five years, people are still talking up West as a potential presidential candidate. Kim would certainly be an entertaining First Lady.

DWAYNE ‘THE ROCK’ JOHNSON

Wealth: $65m
Twitter followers: 12.5m
Odds: 50/1

A former ‘wrestler’ in the ludicrous World Wrestling Federation pantomime, Dwayne Johnson — or ‘The Rock’, as he is better known — has also starred in many dreadful movies. Thanks to his bodybuilder’s physique, easy smile and winning personality (he is renowned for his motivational statements, e.g. ‘When you walk up to opportunity’s door, don’t knock it. Kick that bitch in, smile and introduce yourself’), he has legions of faithful fans, most of whom, one suspects, are stupid teenage boys. The Rock, 45, who was once a registered Republican but now professes to hold no party allegiance, has stated that he is interested in running for president, chiefly because ‘the people’ will it. ‘I can tell you with all honesty that the consideration comes from the desire of a large amount of people who would like to see this happen,’ he has said. Let’s hope it doesn’t — testosterone and the nuclear codes are no one’s idea of a good time.

MARK ZUCKERBERG

Wealth: $71bn
Facebook followers: 102m
Odds: 33/1

Life must seem strangely easy for Mark Zuckerberg, the geek who invented a computer program as a student to make sharing pictures of hot girls on campus easy and as a result became one of the world’s richest men. So why not run for president? There’s no doubt an algorithm that makes winning a formality. Certainly the 33-year-old Facebook founder — who has ditched his trademark scruffy T-shirts for a sharp suit and tie — would have no trouble getting his message out. (He’s also recently hired several high-profile Democrat presidential campaign strategists and has recently completed a ‘listening tour’ of 30 US states.) After all, Facebook is used by more than two billion people a month, many of whom presumably are not Russian bots intent on subverting Western democracy. Are we ready for the Geek-in-Chief? Please answer using a smiley face, a crying face or a thumbs up.

MERYL STREEP

Wealth: $45m
Twitter followers: no social media presence
Odds: 100/1

Hollywood royalty and lately the world’s foremost virtue-signaller, Meryl Streep has been backing Oprah Winfrey for president in 2020, but must surely harbour ambitions of her own. The 68-year-old, who has three best actress Oscars, has been extremely critical in public of President Trump, labelling him a ‘self-dealer’ and
a ‘bully’. As the leading actress of her time, she would certainly be able to deliver fine speeches from the White House lawn but her proximity to Harvey Weinstein — she referred to him as ‘God’ in a 2012 award acceptance speech after decades spent working with him — would likely hurt her electability. Streep was silent when the allegations against Weinstein were initially made, causing angry feminists to turn against her, putting up posters around Hollywood of the actress’s face with the words ‘she knew’ across her forehead. Still, in campaign terms, this level of controversy is small potatoes, and Streep must remain a dark horse for 2020.

GEORGE CLOONEY and MATT DAMON

Wealth: Clooney $500m, Damon $100m
Twitter followers: No social media presence
Odds: 66/1

For many Democrats, this would be the dream Rat Pack ticket. It’s hoped that Clooney, with his crinkly smile, matinée idol looks and beautiful human-rights lawyer wife, would restore to the presidency some of the gravitas it has been missing since Bill Clinton played Hunt the Cigar in the Oval Office (square-jawed one-of-the-guys Damon would bring the frat party fun to the vice-presidency). It’s a lovely idea and one Clooney, 56, a long-time Democrat fundraiser, believes might just fly. ‘I sat with the Democratic Committee and said “you guys keep coming to us for money, but you don’t come to us for the one thing we know how to do, which is make a poster that steals opening weekend”.’ Harvard-educated Damon, 47, who campaigns for universal access to clean water in developing countries and took down Sarah Palin (‘I need to know if she really thinks dinosaurs were here 4,000 years ago’), has in the past been urged to run by Michael Moore. Like Streep, however, both could be hurt by their past closeness to Weinstein. Would the objections withstand the double full beam mega-wattage of the Clooney/Damon smiles? Of course not. Place your bets now.

KATY PERRY

Wealth: $170m
Twitter followers: 108.5m
Odds: 250/1

When her former husband, the comedian Russell Brand, wrote Katy Perry a love poem in the early days of their courtship, the singer famously replied with a selfie of her naked breasts, across which she had scrawled in felt-tip pen the word ‘poetry’ — precisely the kind of pre-emptive strike that would surely put even Vladimir Putin on his arse. Perry, 33, has become increasingly keen of late to make the world aware that she’s no longer just a teeny-bopper but instead a woke woman with important things to say. In 2016 she tried to mobilise support for Hillary and has since invited speculation about her own political ambition by posting on Instagram a photo of herself with former presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton with the caption ‘42, 43, 46?!’ (Dubya and Bill were the 42nd and 43rd presidents, respectively). To run successfully Perry would need to win over the powerful religious and LGBT communities she upset with her 2008 hit ‘I Kissed a Girl’, and certainly victory would be bad news for her most famous enemy, Taylor Swift. Could it happen? No.


Close