- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2016

At the Oscars, there is no category for best Donald Trump takedown. But if there were, there’s been no shortage of nominees this year.

Like pressing hands into freshly poured concrete, denouncing Donald Trump has become a rite of passage for Hollywood’s glitzy and glamorous this campaign season. Of course, conservatives have seen this movie before — Tinseltown has never been especially welcoming of Republicans or their ideas.

But the level of vitriol — complete with the racially charged screenplay of a Spike Lee joint — has reached new heights this election cycle.

Mr. Lee himself would be a contender for the top prize. Denouncing Mr. Trump’s immigration plan as racist, the black director said the businessman is “like Hitler” to Muslims.

“And he wants to close down mosques now,” Mr. Lee said in an interview with The Daily Beast in December. “That’s like the Nazis. That’s like Hitler, Mussolini, the Axis Powers. You can’t do that!”

And the middlebrow filmmaker isn’t the only one casting Mr. Trump as a World War II-era villain. “Please stop voting for Trump. It was funny for a little while. But the guy is Hitler,” wrote comedian Louis C.K. to fans in an email.

Actor George Clooney hinted at Mr. Trump’s strongmanlike qualities when he labeled him a “xenophobic fascist.”

Not to be outdone, Matt Damon censured Mr. Trump’s policies on immigration as “xenophobic” and “crazy.”

“You have to take it seriously that he is doing so well in the polls, but if you hear the things he says, they are so xenophobic and crazy that it is amazing that so many people are willing to vote for him,” Mr. Damon said in an interview in August.

And a letter last month signed by guitarist Carlos Santana, comedian George Lopez and actress America Ferrera bemoaned Mr. Trump for speaking to “anti-immigrant” and “anti-Latino” sentiments.

The list goes on.

Appearances to the contrary, Mr. Trump does have his supporters and sympathizers on the big screen. He’s been endorsed by actors Jon Voight and Gary Busey, and “Saturday Night Live’s” Darrell Hammond praised Mr. Trump for his work ethic while hosting the show last November.

Mell Flynn, president of the Hollywood Congress of Republicans, said there are several celebrities who privately back Mr. Trump but dare not do so publicly for fear of the professional and personal ostracism in an industry dominated by progressives.

“Conservatives in Hollywood tend to hide their political affiliations because of potential repercussion from the Hollywood left,” Ms. Flynn said. But behind the scenes, she added, “Hollywood Republicans seem to mirror the rest of the nation” in terms of which candidate they support.

“From what I see, they are pretty much split between Trump and [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz,” she said. “I do know a few for [Sen. Marco] Rubio, but not many.”

Trump and trigger warnings

Sal La Mastra, who writes about millennial politics and is the author of “2012 for Twentysomethings,” said Mr. Trump’s willingness to overstep the boundaries of political correctness makes him a risky endorsement for any public figure.

“If you think about it, celebrities have to be very careful with what they say or do,” Mr. La Mastra said. “They have a lot of young followers — a lot of millennials now on college campuses who are demanding safe spaces and trigger warnings. I think Donald Trump goes against a lot of that, and I think by endorsing him, that might hurt their appeal to their main audience.”

Political scientists have long been intrigued by a divergence of opinion on the value of celebrity endorsements for politicians, particularly famous movie stars at the level of Mr. Clooney and Mr. Damon. Craig Garthwaite, a management professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, noted that while pundits and academics tend to dismiss the value of such endorsements, candidates and campaigns avidly covet them.

“It seems odd that these candidates could be systematically irrational and attempt to get support from people that have absolutely no effect,” Mr. Garthwaite told the Kellogg Insight, the school’s journal, in 2012.

With University of Maryland researcher Timothy Moore, Mr. Garthwaite tested the proposition by measuring the impact of the endorsement by talk show megastar Oprah Winfrey of then-Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary race with Hillary Clinton. Even controlling for other factors, Mr. Obama consistently did better in areas with higher subscription rates to Ms. Winfrey’s O Magazine, the two researchers found.

All told, they concluded, Ms. Winfrey’s nod was worth a million votes in the binary choice before the Democratic voters, though Mr. Garthwaite noted that Ms. Winfrey, who had never endorsed a candidate before, may have been a uniquely credible and influential endorser in that race.

Still, “in politics, if you could guarantee that you could turn a million more people toward your candidate, you’d be happy,” Mr. Garthwaite told the journal.

While much of Hollywood has trained its firepower on Mr. Trump, the businessman’s supporters not only do not mind the negative press, they seem to revel in it.

“A celebrity is essentially a person like me or you, but who has a lot of people on Instagram and Twitter who follow them,” said Ryan Fournier, president of Students for Trump. “They’re no different than myself or yourself, so when they come out and say that, I just imagine my next-door neighbor coming out and telling me that.”

Mr. La Mastra said ultimately the lack of support from Hollywood won’t hurt Mr. Trump in the Republican primary races, even in California.

“If you look at some of the celebrity endorsements from the past — Kid Rock, Azealia Banks, Dennis Rodman — they’re definitely not on the top of the list with many Republican primary voters,” Mr. La Mastra said.

But he cautioned it could hurt him among millennials and independents in a general election, especially up against the star power likely to line up behind the campaign of Democratic primary front-runner Hillary Clinton.

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