As the polls in the presidential race tighten, the mood in Hollywood this week is one of concern, worry and even abject fear — and it all centers on one question: Could Donald Trump pull off an upset on Tuesday?
In an industry that leans heavily to the left, for many it’s a nightmare scenario. The “October surprise” bombshell letter that FBI director James Comey sent to Congressional leaders on Friday triggered new levels of anxiousness over its impact on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Some industry figures say they are losing sleep. Others say that business conversations inevitably turn to the latest polls or of other potential “bombshells.” Others who haven’t warmed up to Clinton say that they fear getting into political conversations at all.
“I’m fucking terrified,” said writer-director Adam McKay, via email. “If Trump were to win we will see a dismantling of our democracy we cannot imagine. I know that sounds dramatic but I think it’s a safe bet. I’m hoping silent sane Americans rise up to stamp down this ugliness. At the end of the day I still believe humans are getting better and smarter and that Trump is a burp from a bygone era.”
On Twitter in the past 24 hours, a number of entertainment figures have not been shy about sharing their concerns.
“I will be funny in December,” wrote Judd Apatow, responding to a Twitter query. “For now I am more concerned with not electing a madman who incites violence and racism.”
Others have been trying to call attention to stories that have yet to gain traction. Ron Howard tweeted out a Huffington Post story that asked why the media has not been covering a woman’s claim that Trump raped her when she was 13 years old. Rob Reiner retweeted news that the woman was to come forward at a press conference on Wednesday with attorney Lisa Bloom. But as reporters gathered at Bloom’s Woodland Hills office, the attorney informed them that the accuser had decided not to come forward after receiving threats. (Trump’s attorneys have characterized the accusations as “categorically false.”)
It’s even more of a challenge to try and get some work done and tune it all out, given the ubiquitous coverage and online temptations. The stream of polling information can offer some reassurance or just more confusion.
“Can you hear the rosary beads clicking in my hand?” quipped producer Kevin McCormick.
“We live in a bubble, I am afraid,” he added. “Just talk to someone in Florida. It is wall-to-wall Trump ads.” He said that “everyone on both coasts I talk to, and even internationally, has a stomachache about it.”
McCormick said that he has weaned himself off what he called a “news addiction.” “I’m in my ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ phase,” he said, adding that he’d made an exception for news stories about Trump and his ties to Russia.
The nervous mood at this point is to be expected following a very caustic campaign.
California’s lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom, said in an interview with Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM that he and many others “cannot wait until this is over.
“It has been an enormously burdensome election in terms of the public discourse and the coarseness, and a conversation where we are talking past each other, and not to each other,” Newsom said in the interview, which will air on Thursday. “Yeah, there is a lot to be nervous about because as a Democrat, I think the consequences are catastrophic in terms of the future of this democracy if someone like Donald Trump actually succeeds and has the kind of power that is afforded a president. It scares the living daylights out of me that he is this close.”
Newsom said that he was “confident” because of the uphill climb that Trump has to “run the table” on swing states if he is to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. He also noted some of Wednesday’s polls which suggested that Clinton’s numbers had stabilized.
One campaign bundler who did not want to be identified said that he’s had to spend time calming donors down, but he said that “most people in the know are still confident.” The tight race also has driven more people to donate.
Norman Lear said that he doesn’t have “any sense of a person who isn’t nervous. It is very reasonable to be nervous if you are sensible.”
He penned a piece earlier this week for the Huffington Post, called “I Laughed So Hard I Started to Cry,” in which he wrote, “Day to day, as it plays out, the political/social/economic scene invites my tears. The American people deserve so much more by way of steady, apolitical, selfless leadership than is being offered them from any direction. I could — and do — cry.
“And then, through my tears, I see Donald Trump. He’d be grotesquely hilarious, if he wasn’t so f———g dangerous. Still, my tears do not end in laughter.”
“I think that this election, we would have been sweating it out even if it had been 15 points ahead — because we have been burned before,” said Lara Bergthold, a political strategist and principal at RALLY Communications.
She was referring to the 2000 presidential race, in which Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote, and the 2004 race, in which it looked like John Kerry could eek out a victory but ultimately lost to George W. Bush.
Bergthold said that she is still confident that Clinton will win, citing encouraging early vote numbers and her campaign’s superior ground game. Trump’s campaign, she said, doesn’t appear to have much of one.
Her antidote to people who express their nervousness over the race is to urge them to get involved — visit a swing state this weekend, or do some phone banking.
“I think that given the heightened anxiety, the tightening of the polls, it feels better to be out than refreshing Nate Silver,” she says.
“My mantra is to take a deep breath and trust your get-out-the-vote operation, or make phone calls,” she said.
She plans to go to Arizona or Nevada this weekend. Dozens of entertainment figures are expected to caravan to Las Vegas on Saturday.
The next few days also will see a slew of entertainment figures on the stump for Clinton. On Thursday, Steve Aoki will perform in Las Vegas, and former president Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak. Stevie Wonder is performing in Philadelphia on Friday, and Jon Bon Jovi will join Tim Kaine in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday.
Clinton herself will join with Jay Z in Cleveland on Friday, and with Katy Perry on Saturday in Philadelphia for mini-concert events.
One of the final campaign events in Los Angeles will come on Sunday, when Christina Aguilera will perform at a fundraiser in Pacific Palisades for the Hillary Victory Fund, with tickets starting at $250 per person.
Heather Thomas, who holds a monthly salon and political organizing gathering called LA Cafe, said that she advises those who are fretting over the election that “the best way to feel better is to take action, rather than sitting around wringing your hands. That is not a very healthy position.”
She also is trying to steer worried donors and others to Movement 2016 and Voto Latino, two groups that help direct money to what she sees as the most effective get-out-the-vote efforts.
She said that she may be traveling to Nevada or Arizona on Election Day, where she plans to hand out water, umbrellas or even portable stools for those waiting in long lines.
She’s confident that Clinton is going to win, “but I want her to have the Senate and the House,” she said.
A longtime political activist, Thomas also has some advice for those who are getting too distraught over the coverage.
“Turn off the TV, for goodness sake, and also remember that no matter what, this is still the best country in the world.”