At an undisclosed location somewhere in the Los Angeles area, about 200 members of Hollywood’s private group of conservative Republicans — known as “Friends of Abe” — gathered to watch Thursday’s GOP debate between Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich. It was an invite-only list that included everyone from recognized actors to rank-and-file studio workers.
They watched the candidates spar over radical Islamic terrorists, Social Security’s future and illegal immigration. But, it was a moment early in the debate that turned heads: Trump blasted the entertainment industry over Disney employees who allegedly lost their jobs due to abuse of the guest-worker program.
One industry worker clapped and looked around to see if others were equally enthusiastic. Some were, including one invitee sporting a hat emblazoned with “TRUMP.”
It was a snapshot of what could be the entertainment industry’s rare conservatives (and independents) lining up behind Trump, the real estate mogul considered one of their own as a former TV star and producer.
“For every Cruz or Rubio supporter I talk to, there are 10 Trump supporters,” says one conservative wealth manager who has a deep bench of entertainment industry clients. He didn’t want to speak publicly, though he admitted most of his firm’s left-leaning clientele support Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. “I tell them, ‘If you don’t want to feel the Bern, convert your IRAs now rather than pay his 92 percent tax rate.’ I know they like their Teslas, private schools and million-dollar mansions, but they won’t afford all that if they’re allowed to keep only 8 percent of their income.”
Could this be a turning point among Hollywood’s conservatives?
There are conservative stars who are openly Republican. Actor Jon Voight, whose daughter Angelina Jolie is famously liberal-leaning, threw his support to Trump on March 8. “I pray all Americans who have seen and felt the meltdown of America with the Obama years, to please fight for Donald Trump,” Voight said in his endorsement. The Hollywood Reporter asked rocker Ted Nugent, a Trump supporter, if there are others in entertainment who back Trump but are too timid to say so out loud, and he said: “I know it for a fact, but vowed not to out them.” Beyond Voight and Nugent, celebrities outwardly supporting The Donald include Kid Rock, Stephen Baldwin and Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson.
And it’s those so-called closeted entertainment industry stalwarts Nugent and others refer to that remain a mystery. Author and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis suggested in a tweet on Feb. 21 that it’s tough to know for sure which Hollywood figures are throwing their support to frontrunner Trump. The American Psycho author said he was “shocked” that most of his companions at a recent dinner said they would vote for the billionaire — though they “would never admit it publicly.”
THR tried to discuss the meaning of his tweet, but Easton Ellis chose not to comment.
One actor firmly in the Trump camp is Robert Davi, best known for his tough-guy roles in Die Hard, License to Kill, Goonies and The Expendables 3. “We should thank God that Trump is in this race. The media and the establishment are terrified,” Davi wrote in a piece for Breitbart.com’s conservative Big Hollywood vertical. “They paint Trump and his supporters as racist and uneducated. … Some will not openly come out and say they support him because they’re afraid of being falsely labeled by some here in Hollywood.”
Big Hollywood is also where Voight endorsed Trump, and the site has been attacking any media personality it feels has unfairly maligned the candidate, even those on the right like Glenn Beck, who supports Ted Cruz and swears he won’t vote for Trump even if he’s the Republican nominee.
And when former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted Trump in a recent speech, several industry insiders pounced. Big Hollywood, for example, dubbed it “MittCarthyism,” while actor Mark Vafiades — who is also the L.A. County GOP chair — said “you always have to support the Republican because he will be better than the Democrat. In 2012, many didn’t support Romney. We defended him, and said Republicans must get out and vote for him, and now he’s doing the same thing his Republican detractors did to him in 2012. He’s stabbing us in the back.”
Trump began wooing Hollywood early on, speaking to Friends of Abe (FOA) in July at the lavish Luxe Sunset Blvd. Hotel in Brentwood. At that event, he told THR that his support among celebrities and entertainment workers was stronger than outsiders realize. “I think the liberals in Hollywood support me behind my back,” he quipped.
Trump was well-received by FOA that night, but Jeremy Boreing, who runs the conservative group, says it’s a “massive overstatement” to say conservative Hollywood is uniformly lining up for Trump. “It is fair to say that several in our community are starting to give Trump another look and a few are starting to openly support him. … We’ve suffered six years of betrayals from the establishment, seven years of watching our nation weakened on the international stage, and a generation of assault by weaponized political correctness. People are pissed.”
Boreing’s point that Hollywood is far from monolithic in its support for Trump was illustrated during FOA’s debate viewing party, where talk-radio host Ben Shapiro, who authored a best-selling book about liberal bias in Hollywood, live-blogged the proceedings. Just before arriving, he was on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show eviscerating Trump.
Trump’s biggest advocate, of course, is Ann Coulter, and she has been working behind the scenes to drum up support for him in Hollywood, including championing his signature issue — illegal immigration — at dinners with Clint Eastwood and a few dozen others in the industry that she won’t name.
“Hollywood should support him for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it’s impossible to get around in L.A. with 2 million illegals on the road,” she told THR. “On the other hand, Hollywood liberals may have to start paying their maids more.”
As tough as it is to openly support Trump and still work in liberal Hollywood, many conservatives say he’s safer than Ted Cruz, probably the only other candidate with a chance to win the GOP nomination.
“The liberal majority in Hollywood looks at Trump as a joke, so if you support him, they dismiss you. But if you back Cruz, you’re looked at with great suspicion. As fate has it, I back Cruz,” says writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, one of the founders of FOA. Indeed, Caitlyn Jenner received a mountain of nasty commentary from liberals who were upset that she praised Cruz.
“When I say ‘Cruz,’ liberal Hollywood hears ‘Himmler,'” says Chetwynd, referencing Adolf Hitler’s former henchman.
“I was at a lunch with top executives at a studio. I can’t tell you their names,” Chetwynd says. “When I said I supported Cruz, one says, ‘See. I told you so!’ Then they all chuckled. They were so thrilled to meet a real Nazi!”