Every so often, a celebrity endorsement matters in presidential politics. Oprah Winfrey’s early and enthusiastic support for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential bid, for example, brought the relative unknown invaluable visibility, viability and, according to a study by two University of Maryland economists, more than a million votes in his battle for the Democratic nomination.
But that’s Oprah, America’s most admired woman. More typically, celebrity endorsements have no appreciable effect on voters’ choices, even if star glamour can be a useful fundraising tool.
And then there are those politically toxic celebrities whose support no presidential candidate wants, no matter how much money they can raise. Like Gary Busey. The toothy Z-movie actor infamous for aggressive, Mayor of Crazy Town-style statements recently endorsed GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Although conceding he’d never met the former House speaker, Mr. Busey said he “knew what he stood for.” Days later, Mr. Busey rescinded what he’d concluded was a premature endorsement, warning, “When there are the two final candidates, then I will endorse.”
Here are 10 other celebrity endorsements it would behoove any presidential candidate to dodge:
1. Alec Baldwin: Scandal continues to cling to the once A-list star - from fights with paparazzi to ugly political rhetoric, a leaked voicemail in which he called his daughter a “pig,” and now a testy encounter with an American Airlines flight crew that saw him ejected from the plane. Consistently good work in film and TV mitigates the damage somewhat, though his own frequent mutterings about a career in politics seem better-suited to one who could go a whole year without a public disgrace.
2. Charlie Sheen: The troubled actor, notorious for drug use that has landed him in both the hospital and court, boasts a veritable laundry list of conduct that could mar or destroy the career of any politico caught engaging in it: drug use, Caligula-like sexual escapades, domestic-violence arrests and aggressively bizarre statements accompanied by explosive public meltdowns. Capping it all is Mr. Sheen’s proud status as a 9/11 Truther, actively propagating his disbelief in the official explanation for the terrorist attacks.
3. Mel Gibson: Once such a star that any conservative presidential candidate would have been delighted to enlist him as a surrogate, the past decade saw his image damaged irreparably. With his anti-Semitic rant during a drunk-driving arrest, Mr. Gibson seemingly vindicated previous allegations of anti-Semitism leveled at him. He subverted his own attempts at image rehab when he was recorded using racist language and making violent threats against his child’s mother during a vicious custody battle. Not exactly the image the GOP wants to project as it strives to pry Jewish voters from the Democrats and narrow the gender gap.
4.Lindsay Lohan: Once bound for great stardom, she has been so mired in scandal that one could be forgiven for thinking that she’s nothing more than a grossly overcompensated Playboy model. In 2008, Miss Lohan actually offered her services to the Obama campaign, only to be informed that her brand of tabloid infamy was not what they were looking for.
5. Joe Paterno: As recently as two months ago, the Penn State football coach was viewed as a paragon of leadership and virtue, the sort of model citizen whose public blessing Republican candidates quite naturally sought (and received). Then came the horrific sex-abuse scandal, along with allegations that Mr. Paterno did little to expose and halt the child sexual abuse said to have been committed by his longtime defensive coordinator. And with that, he became the opposite of the sort of figure one would want to be seen with on the campaign trail.
6. Ludacris: There’s a reason one rarely sees a campaign touting the support of a rapper, despite the fact that many of them are happy to discuss who they do and don’t like. Of course, the problem lies in how they express themselves, often in rhymes laden with profanity, sexism and violence.In 2008, rapper-actor Ludacris wrote a pro-Obama song that included such choice lyrics such as “McCain don’t belong in any chair unless he’s paralyzed” and “Hillary hated on you, so that b— is irrelevant.” The Obama campaign promptly distanced itself and said that Ludacris should be “ashamed” of the lyrics. And yet, earlier this year, controversy was stirred when Common, another rapper-actor, attended a poetry reading at the White House, with opponents citing his support for convicted cop killers and violent lyrics. In the future, the White House might be well-advised to institute a new rule: No rappers allowed.
7. Arnold Schwarzenegger: Once upon a time, Mr. Schwarzenegger was a political superstar - a prime-time Republican National Convention speaker who excited talk of amending the Constitution to make the foreign-born actor-politician eligible to run for president. In time, though, the Terminator became the Governator, a center-left California chief executive popular with nobody. Throw in a sex scandal that revealed a child hidden from the public for more than a decade, and Mr. Schwarzenegger seemingly has no place in a Republican Party currently galloping to the right in the era of the tea Party and Obamacare.
8. Donald Trump: The reality-TV star and occasional real estate mogul had been set to host a debate for the Republican candidates. Mr. Trump, who in his book speculated that he might provide the “single most important endorsement a presidential candidate” could get, was only able to sign up Mr. Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the rest declining for reasons ranging from the ever-useful “scheduling conflict” to open disdain, with Ron Paul sarcastically noting, “I didn’t realize he had the ability to lay on hands and anoint people.” If he did have such an ability, he doesn’t anymore.
9. Sean Penn: Infamous for years for violent outbursts against the press (and his pop star ex-spouse Madonna), the notoriously moody actor has recently made headlines for his fawning support of Venezuela’s America-bashing President Hugo Chavez. Mr. Penn recently had a public spat at Los Angeles International Airport with erstwhile “Colors” co-star Maria Conchita Alonso over his sycophancy toward the ailing dictator. The fiery Venezuelan actress reportedly called Mr. Penn a “communist,” and he retorted that she’s a “pig.” Not quite Jane Fonda 2.0 in this case, but close.
10. Jane Fonda: A militant antiwar activist that many American veterans have denounced as an outright traitor to her country, Miss Fonda has never lived down her visit to Hanoi during the Vietnam War, when she lent her international renown to an enemy propaganda circus, even posing on an anti-aircraft battery, which would have been firing at U.S. warplanes. She later slandered returning American POWs and married ultra-radical Students for a Democratic Society activist Tom Hayden.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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