Hillary in Crisis: Hollywood Democrats See Elizabeth Warren as Plan B

Hillary Clinton UN Women H 2015
AP Photo/Richard Drew

Hillary Clinton UN Women H 2015

A widening email scandal saps buzz for the former secretary of state.

A version of this story first appeared in the March 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

As questions mount about Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state, some Hollywood Democrats are beginning to think the unthinkable: If not her, then whom?

Norman Lear, the reigning elder among Hollywood progressives, sums up a common fallback position. If Clinton, 67, declines to run for president in 2016, he'll back lightning rod Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose industry supporters are numerous and passionate. "Women only," Lear tells THR. "I think Elizabeth would make a great president."

Warren, 65, a former Harvard Law professor, has said she will not seek the Democratic nomination, but MoveOn.org has been organizing "Run Warren Run" gatherings on L.A.'s Westside. Among the movement's supporters are Mark Ruffalo, Edward Norton, Susan Sarandon, Matt Bomer and Darren Aronofsky. Other potential candidates being debated at industry functions are New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and even former Maryland Gov. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

The new questions about Clinton's viability come in what has become a season of discontent for industry Democrats. Many in Hollywood privately have expressed dissatisfaction with President Obama. The more conservative power brokers are disappointed with his handling of threats to Israel, capped off by his recent clash with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran's nuclear program. Hollywood's more liberal contingent feels that many of Obama's policies on national security and his relationship with Wall Street have offered no improvement from predecessor George W. Bush.

Fair or not, Clinton is viewed by both camps as too similar to Obama and entrenched in an ineffective system. Her national poll numbers were dropping even before the email scandal, and her handling of the issue — on March 10 she said she thought "using one device would be simpler" — has been heavily scrutinized. In Hollywood, the response to her potential candidacy has been tepid at best. One A-list producer and fan of President Bill Clinton tells THR he won't back Hillary because she is "more of the same," but he stops short of considering a GOP candidate, of which there are plenty. Those recently making the fundraising rounds on the Westside include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Still, most vocal Democrats continue to be aligned with Clinton, such as DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg and Fox film chief Jim Gianopulos. "She'd make a great president," says Gianopulos. "It's about time we had a woman who's president as well, but that's not her qualification. Her qualifications speak for themselves. She's certainly very capable of it."

Veteran Democratic strategists also point to Bill and Hillary's ability to roll with the punches. "She will survive and be our next president," says L.A. political consultant Rick Taylor. "Americans are forgiving; she should know that by the way we treated her husband."

Democratic strategist Bill Carrick dismissed the controversy as just a political ploy.

"You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that all this controversy is being generated by the Republicans," Carrick said. "Once this gets into a real campaign, none of this will be a big deal."