Celebrities should not run for political office

In our current polarizing political climate, more celebrities are running for political office. They shouldn’t.

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Katherine Mayo / Daily Collegian

By Luke Halpern, Collegian Columnist

In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, a longtime celebrity, entertainer and reality TV show star, won the presidency over Hillary Clinton, an established politician and member of a famous political family who had served as a senator and secretary of state. It was a shocking result; almost all the major polling institutions predicted Clinton would win by a comfortable amount, some even predicted a landslide victory. Yet on election night, Trump continued to win states that Clinton was projected to win, and the tide slowly but surely turned to Trump’s side.

Trump’s victory completely changed the political landscape of the United States. Yes, before Trump there were other celebrities that ran for office successfully, including former actors Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The latter became Governor of California and Reagan went on to become the 40th President. Those two men were outliers in the decades they ran for office, as celebrities rarely ran for office and were seen as novelties. Still, their ability to connect with the electorate made them relatable to the people. Further, the concept of a “celebrity” —especially in Reagan’s case— was not fully established. Now, celebrities are much more famous than celebrities in decades prior due to the integration of social media and the ease of communication across the country.

In the last five years since Trump’s election win, a multitude of celebrities have considered or announced runs for office. Caitlyn Jenner ran a failed campaign for governor of California during the recent recall election against Gavin Newsom. Matthew McConaughey consistently pondered a run for governor of Texas for years, recently bowing out of consideration. Oprah Winfrey had broad public support to run for president, and actively considered running in 2020. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has also been rumored to run for president and has said he would if public support is there. Kanye West created his own political party and ran for president in 2020, garnering around 60,000 votes, and has considered running again in 2024. Cynthia Nixon, former star of “Sex and the City”, had a failed primary run for New York governor. Herschel Walker, former Heisman winner and University of Georgia football player, is currently running for senate in Georgia, and Dr. Oz, the TV doctor and proponent of alternative medicine and conspiracies, is running for senate in Pennsylvania.

Clearly, the celebrity fervor for running for office is not going away. People want other options than the classic career politician, which is not a new concept. But the idea of uber-famous celebrities using their fame to run for office is dangerous. The current political climate is a fertile ground for this, as people don’t just support a candidate because of their proposals and ideas, they support a candidate because they strongly dislike the opposition. This is a concept called “negative partisanship”, and it makes it easier for celebrities to run because the common voter won’t care about who the candidate for their party is. Instead, they will simply vote against the party they dislike. Any celebrity, like Dr. Oz, can choose a party, run for office and get votes simply due to not being part of the opposing party.

This is a troubling concept because candidates who have little-to-no knowledge of government can get elected to hugely important positions in state and federal elections. It would be easy for them to be corrupted by party officials and fall in line with what the party wants to be done, without actually considering the electorate. At the same time, it is understandable that the public is tired of career politicians running for office and want newer candidates to run. There must be a new influx of political candidates that run for office, a group that is younger, has some government background, but is not a political insider. The answer to career politicians should not be celebrities, as that will only further erode our electoral system.

Luke Halpern can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @lukehalpern.