As Donald Trump inches closer to the Republican nomination, the number of players in Hollywood who have openly come out in support of him or given him their endorsement is growing.
A year ago, this was far from the case. In fact, weak support has only recently given way to more obvious backing from both stars and studio executives, who realize that his candidacy may now be viewed with a certain inevitability.
In some cases, disillusioned former supporters of Obama and the Democratic Party have turned to Trump as someone they believe is not tainted by what they see as Establishment corruption. Or perhaps they see him as someone who may serve them better when it comes to industry issues such as immigrant labor or protection for Hollywood’s extensive intellectual property.
Certainly, Obama and even Hillary Clinton have been no slouches when it comes to Hollywood fundraising. In 2012, it’s estimated that Obama raised more than $20 million dollars in Hollywood at a number of high-profile fundraisers while Hillary Clinton has raised over $11 million to date for her 2016 run from such notable donors as Harvey Weinstein and Steve Bing (who alone has given as much as $10.7 to the Democratic Party over the years).
The phenomenon of Trump’s rise took a good deal of time to sink in for much of traditionally liberal Hollywood. Among one group, however, there was early support and even a speaking invitation, which Trump honored in July of last year, resulting in a capacity crowd as well as American and Mexican protesters outside the event (some with Trump effigy piñatas) at the Luxe Hotel in Brentwood.
Friends of Abe (FOA) is a nonprofit “stealth organization” of actors and artists in Hollywood that came together in support of conservative causes beginning in 2005. The group doesn’t publish membership lists or even disclose its numbers (likely to prevent any political backlash or blacklisting).
However, known participants include actors Gary Sinise (who founded the organization), Clint Eastwood, Kelsey Grammer, Jon Voigt, Patricia Heaton; singer Pat Boone; comedian Dennis Miller; producer Jerry Bruckheimer; and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd.
Functions of FOA are typically off-the-record, no-press events featuring well-known speakers or celebrities. Past speakers have included the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, former vice president Dick Cheney, commentator Ann Coulter and radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Political candidates and office holders Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, John Boehner, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul have also been feted or roasted by the group.
Other FOA events are more low-key, such as family picnics and pie-baking contests. But every event serves as a fundraising opportunity and a way to highlight conservative issues with the Hollywood elite.
Trump told the FOA crowd gathered that night that his presidential campaign kickoff speech wherein he had accused Mexican people of being drug dealers and rapists had been misinterpreted and taken out of context by the media.
“I think the liberals in Hollywood support me behind my back,” the New York magnate crowed.
FOA spokesman Jeremy Boreing stated that Trump was “probably the presidential candidate in the field today who best understands stagecraft.” Boreing said the reception of the crowd of 300 was “raucous” and “very happy.” It’s worth noting, however, that no FOA members made any endorsements or media quotes regarding Trump at the time.
By late September, the Republican contender had courted former heavyweight boxing champion and sometime actor Mike Tyson to his cause, perhaps due in part to the fact that Tyson has fought bouts at Trump properties, including his famous fight with Michael Spinks at Trump Plaza.
Tyson says he empathizes with the “hated” and “awesome” businessman.
Southern favorite “Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson appeared onstage with Trump at an Oklahoma rally on September 25. “Mr. Trump is a real leader,” Robertson said in a statement. “He represents success and strength, two attributes our country needs.” Meanwhile, Robertson’s father Phil has endorsed Trump’s GOP rival Ted Cruz.
Perennial bad boy Charlie Sheen tweeted that he wanted to be Trump’s running mate, as did wrestler Hulk Hogan.
Musician Ted Nugent said he thought Trump should be given a “Medal of Freedom for speaking his mind in such a bold, honest and straightforward manner.” Former wrestler, actor and governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura shocked some of his fans by endorsing Trump — but only for the Republican nomination.
Former governor of Alaska and reality TV star Sarah Palin famously gave Trump her endorsement at a press conference on January 19 of this year in Iowa, saying bluntly to mixed reviews that Trump “would kick ISIS’ ass” and that “the status quo has got to go.”
Actor Stephen Baldwin gave Trump his support, possibly due to his appearing twice on different seasons of TV’s “Celebrity Apprentice.” Baldwin isn’t the only Celebrity Apprentice veteran to endorse Trump; crazy-man Gary Busey praised Trump as being “sharp,” “fast,” and “a great guy,” offering the mogul his support not just in this campaign season but also previously in 2011.
Apprentice star and Kim Jong Un pal Dennis Rodman offered his encouragement via Twitter. While other former Apprentice stars to back The Donald include former Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno, reality TV star Jesse James and retired NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens.
Reality star Tila Tequila, musician Kid Rock, Las Vegas singer Wayne Newton, rapper Azealia Banks, teen sensation Aaron Carter, country singer Loretta Lynn and Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes also jumped on the Trump bandwagon.
Retired NFL coach and sports commentator Mike Ditka has made waves with his endorsement of Trump and even claims he was fired from his regular ESPN hosting gig because of it.
Although the above entertainers are the most overt examples of Trump supporters, some Hollywood insiders claim there are more, including A-listers who don’t want to confess their advocacy in public for fear of alienating fans or studio executives.
“For every Cruz or Rubio supporter I talk to, there are 10 Trump supporters,” says a money manager who handles Hollywood A-list talent.
“American Psycho” and “Less Than Zero” author Bret Easton Ellis claimed to be shocked that many of his companions at a dinner he attended recently were in Trump’s corner, but “would never admit it publicly.”
Actor Robert Davi, known for playing villains and scoundrels, supports Trump and says of his fellow actors that “some will not openly come out and say they support him because they’re afraid of being falsely labeled [as racist or uneducated].”
Meanwhile, as the pro-Trump forces are gathering, a menage of anti-Trump stars have also made their presence felt.
Most notably, in February of this year, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Funny or Die production company released a “mockumentary” entitled, “Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie,” making fun of Trump’s book of the same name and starring Johnny Depp as Trump. Funny or Die leaked the production to the web the night Trump won the New Hampshire GOP primary.
In theory, this 50-minute spoof was supposed to be an airing of a long-lost television special that Trump made back in 1987 which never aired. In reality, it was a low-grade exercise in unfunny humor and cheap, dated jokes.
Looking almost unrecognizable in makeup heavier than what he wore in the muddled “Black Mass,” when he played Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, Depp apparently filmed the satirical role in four days. Depp later called Trump “a brat” (perhaps forgetting incidents in his own past when he trashed hotel rooms).
Other stars who have come out swinging against Trump include Samuel L. Jackson, Rosanna Arquette, Lady Gaga, Cher, Neil Young, Eva Longoria, Ricky Martin, Shakira, Heidi Klum, Ronda Rousey, Rob Schneider and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
A number of notables such as Jane Fonda, Harry Belafonte, Lily Tomlin, Danny Glover and favorite Trump target Rosie O’Donnell have signed an online petition to “Stop Hate, Dump Trump.”
The petition refers to Trump’s supposed “Islamophobia,” “misogyny” and “politics of hate and exclusion.” A-Lister Matt Damon spoke of the Apprentice creator as “xenophobic” and “disgusting.”
As the campaign season wears on and Trump comes closer to clinching the GOP nomination, it’s likely that more stars and executives will come out both against and in support of Trump.
Whether this will have an impact on the public’s opinion of Trump (who is no stranger to the entertainment business) remains to be seen.