The New Hampshire primary may give the smaller but still significant community of entertainment industry conservatives some clues as to the contours of the presidential race — but don’t count on it.
In Hollywood, the center-right and far right have been spreading their support among multiple candidates, but there is every chance that it will be some time before industry conservatives begin to coalesce around two choices after the New Hampshire primary, as happened in 2012 and in 2008.
That is a function of the sheer number of candidates in the GOP field, as well as the ability of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, taking on the party establishment, to define the contours of the race. Should the polls hold up and Trump wins New Hampshire, the scramble will be to come in No. 2 or No. 3, with John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio considered the most likely contenders for those slots.
On Friday, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did a “tele-town hall” with Kasich, who has staked much of his campaign on a good showing in the Granite State. “You are the Terminator,” Schwarzenegger told Kasich, noting that the Ohio governor had proven he could take a beating and be “positive and upbeat.”
On a plane on his way to Manchester on Monday was Harry Sloan, CEO of Global Eagle Acquisition Corp. and former CEO of MGM, who is backing Kasich. He cited the candidate as someone who is “reasonable, moderate and compassionate.”
“He’s very much his own man,” Sloan said, pointing to an interview that Kasich gave last week in which he said he would be the “worst vice president anybody could ever imagine” because he’s “not going to take orders from these people. “
Sloan was among the co-hosts of a Kasich fundraiser at Soho House last month, along with Ron Burkle and Gary Winnick, that drew about 100 people. The event was like a town hall, as opposed to a traditional photo-line fundraiser, with the candidate taking questions from the crowd in much the way he has at more than 100 events in New Hampshire.
Support from the entertainment industry is spread around multiple Republican candidates.
Jerry Perenchio, one of the most prolific of all GOP donors, has invested heavily in a SuperPAC backing the candidacy of Carly Fiorina. According to the most recent reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, he gave the PAC an additional $2.3 million in the latter half of 2015, adding to the more than $1.5 million he gave to the organization earlier in the year.
Meanwhile, Jeb Bush has drawn support from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Lionsgate’s Michael Burns, while entertainment attorney Bruce Ramer has given to Kasich and Marco Rubio. Tony Pritzker, managing partner of the Pritzker Group, held a fundraiser for Rubio in December at his Beverly Hills estate, with John Ondrasik performing.
Bruckheimer told Variety in a recent interview that even though he has been supporting Bush, he found Trump to be “an interesting, very successful man.” “I like ’em all. I want to see who comes out ahead and I’ll support who I believe will be best for our country,” he said.
Trump drew more than 300 people in July when he spoke to Friends of Abe, the fellowship of showbiz conservatives, but, like the rest of the industry, members of the group are by no means lining up behind one or two candidates.
“I would say that it is a microcosm of the movement generally — the nation has not broken for one candidate or another,” said Jeremy Boreing, executive director of Friends of Abe. “I think that [New Hampshire] will necessarily define the race a little more, but I don’t think it will be like years past. I don’t think New Hampshire will produce a two-person race.”
The group does not endorse or raise money for candidates, but Boreing said that “if there is a leaning, it probably leans toward the conservative candidates,” a function of working in an industry environment where Democrats dominate. The group was set up about 10 years ago to give an outlet for conservatives to meet in relative anonymity, and its meetings are not open to the press.
Cruz was in Los Angeles in December for a series of fundraisers, including a Beverly Hills event with former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan as one of the co-hosts.
While Cruz has picked up support from entertainment figures such as “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson and Trump from such boldfaced names as investor Carl Icahn and Loretta Lynn, they are also drawing concerns among Republicans backing other candidates on what it would mean if they were nominated.
Sloan, for instance, predicts a high electoral loss if Cruz is the nominee, “all 50 states including Texas.” “If Trump is the nominee, my big fear is he can win,” Sloan said, citing his concerns over Trump’s statements on Muslims and religious freedom.
The state of the race from Hollywood’s vantage point is far different from 2008, when showbiz Republicans and conservatives seemed to be lining up behind John McCain or Rudy Giuliani as the New Hampshire primary approached. Giuliani dropped out before the California primary, which that year was in early February.
This time, “It is wide open at this point. I don’t think anyone except for Jim Gilmore is down for the count,” quips writer-producer Rob Long, who has not chosen who he is backing.
He was in New Hampshire this past weekend to participate in a panel, and has come away skeptical of the polling.
“I actually think that Jeb Bush is going to have a great night,” he says. “He has got to finish one, two or three, and that will be a high success for him. Clinton in 1992 — ‘comeback kid’ territory is how they are going to spin it.” He was referring to Bill Clinton’s strong second-place finish in New Hampshire that year, reviving his campaign hopes.
Long joked that the state had the feel of picking a “middle school prom date for the middle school dance,” but that “four candidates will leave New Hampshire with legitimate claims of going forward, maybe four or five.”
Even though Trump is leading in the polls, Long questions their accuracy and the tendency among the state’s voters to be more strategic. “I suspect that there are other choices who are attractive, and New Hampshire prides itself on electability,” he says.
Long has doubts about Kasich’s ability to capture the nomination, saying that he is “approaching the race as if he is teaching Republican primary voters a lesson.”
As much as there is anticipation about Tuesday, Long suggested that Republicans were just as fascinated with what was going on between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. She is expected to lose to Sanders, the Democratic socialist. “The Democratic side is too interesting, and you have all these viable candidates” on the Republican side, he said.