Donald Trump — mega-millionaire, star of “The Apprentice” and pre-eminent comb-over guru — is making headlines for his announced exploratory committee into a potential presidential run in 2012 on the Republican ticket.
Trump is hardly the first celebrity to run for public office, and his ample war chest stands to keep his name in the mix through the election season. But how likely is he to be successful? By examining his fellow celebrity politicians, it might be possible to distinguish where exactly Trump falls on the presidential spectrum.
Trump, and perhaps all ambitious celebrity pols, yearns for the kind of esteem Ronald Reagan held. Reagan is better known for his defining presidency of conservative politics, his supply-side “Reaganomics,” ending the Cold War and the Iran-Contra affair than his acting career. Reagan’s presidential prowess so overcame his initial celebrity status that it’s often remembered as an afterthought.
But few non-celebrity politicians have reached the success of Reagan. The only other presidential celebrity examples for Trump to potentially follow would be Obama and Kennedy — neither exactly in his wheelhouse. Though he could follow the lead of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Over his two terms as California governor, The Terminator gained serious political respect as a moderate Republican whose magnetism endured despite the drooping approval ratings suffered by lame-duck incumbents. And now that he’s done working in politics? He’s returning to showbiz, launching a comic book and animated series aptly titled “The Governator” with Marvel head honcho Stan Lee.
Arnold is a less polarizing figure than Trump, and based on some of Trump’s on-air flubs — notably for not knowing Roe v. Wade’s precedent as a right to privacy — he’s facing an uphill battle even if he wasn’t better known for his on-air persona. The failures of some celebrities running for office hold salient cautionary tales.
Comedian Stephen Colbert also famously “ran” for president in 2008, attempting to be on both the Democratic and Republican ballots. A spectacular failure, the whole endeavor seemed like a grand gesture for ripe material for his show, “The Colbert Report.”
While Trump hasn’t made a name for himself as a comedian like Colbert, it’s difficult to know just how serious he is about running. The Democratic Party wasn’t amused with Colbert in 2008 and refused to accept his bid. If by some bizarre sequence of events Trump clinches the nomination, will the Republican Party be willing to validate it?
The White House may be too drastic a real estate change for Trump — and he should know, with his millions made from his real estate ventures. Like most non-celebrity politicians, the best way to hold a higher office is to work your way up the ladder.
Sonny Bono, fresh from leaving Cher, enjoyed a successful political career as the mayor of Palm Springs and later as a U.S. Representative of California. Former “Saturday Night Live” star Al Franken, who first gained attention for his progressive politicking through a talk radio show and a series of bestselling books, won the extremely close Minnesota senate race in 2008.
But Trump has never been marked by modesty; his “go big or go home” attitude would seemingly preclude him from taking stepping stones such as a senate run to eventually get him to D.C. So finally, there’s the celebrity politician perhaps closest to Trump’s own personality: Howard Stern.
The radio shock jock won the Libertarian Party nomination for his 1994 run for governor of New York, but when a law requiring him to disclose his address and financial records reared its head, he withdrew. It raises the question as to what exactly Stern’s motivations were for running: Was he a legitimate politician or an oversize personality caught up political theater? Trump appears to be leaning toward the latter.