Why Are High-Profile Hollywood Republicans Staying Mum on Election?

Hollywood Republicans Staying Silent on Donald Trump
Pete Ryan for Variety

It’s nothing new that Hollywood leans left — the next few weeks will see Leonardo DiCaprio, Barbra Streisand, and Cher hosting or performing at fundraisers for Hillary Clinton. But among the smaller yet still significant group of Republicans in the entertainment business, this election cycle has been notable for its silence.

Some who have been involved in past Republican campaigns, like writer/director David Zucker, say they are taking a pass this time around. A rep for Robert Duvall, who raised money for Mitt Romney, and narrated films for the Republican National Convention of 2008, says the actor isn’t talking about politics. Others have made more extreme shifts: Last week, Harry Sloan, the former CEO of MGM who raised money for John McCain and Romney, announced that he was backing Clinton.

This has led to speculation that other prominent Southern California Republicans who’ve never warmed to Donald Trump’s candidacy might also be willing to switch affiliation. Democratic bundlers have been reaching out to disaffected GOP stalwarts, hoping to convince them to join the Clinton campaign, even if that means bucking a lifetime tradition of voting on the right.

OUTSPOKEN: Antonio Sabato Jr. says his speech at the RNC is costing him jobs. Kaster/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Despite the apparent top-of-the-ticket divisions, some Republicans continue to speak out. Jon Voight, for instance, is a vocal Trump supporter. In a video posted on TMZ, he said Trump’s comments about “Second Amendment people” taking matters into their own hands if Clinton were to nominate Supreme Court judges were being blown “way out of proportion.” He added that the candidate is a “terrific guy with a great sense of humor.” James Woods has been particularly outspoken on Twitter, with a steady stream of anti-Clinton tweets. Clint Eastwood, one of the most prominent Hollywood Republicans, has not endorsed Trump. However, he did tell Esquire he thought Trump has said “a lot of dumb things,” but “he’s onto something, because secretly everybody’s getting tired of political correctness, kissing up.”

But other figures who have been active in past races are more reticent to step into the volatile political fray. A publicist for Patricia Heaton, who campaigned for McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012, said she’s not involved in this year’s race. A rep for Kelsey Grammer, who contributed to Ben Carson’s presidential bid, said the actor isn’t commenting publicly on the election. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s succeeding Trump as the star of “Celebrity Apprentice,” has yet to indicate whether he will endorse the candidate.

Zucker made ad spots for the GOP and screened his comedy “An American Carol” during the 2008 Republican convention. Explaining his decision to sit the race out, he says, “I think a lot of people are taking a pass. We all despise Hillary Clinton, but this is a rough one. I’m just not interested in either candidate.” He says he’s been at a loss to explain this election to his kids. “I don’t know what’s happened this time,” Zucker says. “It’s kind of depressing.”

Writer/producer Rob Long, co-founder of conservative site Ricochet, goes so far as to question Trump’s mental state. “There is just no way I’m going to vote for him,” he says. “I don’t think anything Trump can do right now is going to change Trump or change attitudes.” But he doesn’t want to vote for Clinton — who he calls a liar — either.

Hollywood conservatives have long contended that there’s a risk to speaking out publicly in an industry that leans left — but Trump’s candidacy has added a level of volatility. After he spoke at the Republican National Convention, Antonio Sabato Jr. told Variety: “I’ve had fantastic directors who have said officially to my agents and managers they will never hire me again. They will never even see me for projects.” Sabato says he speaks his mind. “But because I’m in the industry, you can’t talk about that.”

Speaking With Their Wallets
$17.8m Campaign funds Hillary Clinton has collected from the entertainment industry
$185k Campaign funds Donald Trump has collected from the entertainment industry

Maybe not, but campaign contributions speak volumes. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Clinton has collected $17.8 million from entertainment industry sources, vs. less than $185,000 for Trump. Showbiz donations in all presidential and congressional races are running 77% Democratic/23% Republican, the group says.

Trump began courting L.A. donors in earnest only in May, when he held a fundraiser at the home of Colony Capitol’s Tom Barrack. Clinton, meanwhile, has been trekking to the city to raise money just about every month since she launched her campaign last year.

As much as Trump has touted his showbiz ties, he may not need the industry’s support. The Trump campaign announced that it had raised $80 million in July, the bulk of it coming from online and direct-mail appeals rather than from big-time bundlers.

Meanwhile, among Hollywood figures on the left, Trump is considered more than just a candidate they disagree with; rather, they feel, he is a national threat. DiCaprio and Meryl Streep have a long history of backing Democratic candidates, but DiCaprio’s willingness to host a Clinton fundraiser and Streep’s speech to the Democratic National Convention are more visible roles than either has taken in the past.

“Murphy Brown” creator Diane English, who’s helping to fund an independent pro-Clinton effort called Humanity for Hillary that has produced a celebrity-filled video, says this election is especially urgent, even for those who typically stay silent. Although she does “understand the reluctance to get out there on a platform, especially if you’re an actor and put your political views on trial,” she says she sees “more and more people mobilizing.”

There’s little doubt that Clinton would garner the lion’s share of showbiz support regardless of who the GOP candidate was. Ken Sunshine of PR firm Sunshine Sachs, a longtime friend of the Clintons, says the industry “really loves Hillary. It’s not just that they hate Trump.” However, he allows that Trump is unique in inspiring antipathy. “A lot of people are willing to put themselves out there,” he says, “because they’re so horrified about him and his antics.”