Hollywood Conservatives Embrace Mike Pence While the Left Prepares to Pounce

Mike Pence and Trump - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Mike Pence and Trump - Getty - H 2016

"Hillary and whoever she chooses as her running mate may not know it now, but they'll have a tough time debating Pence. He's very media-savvy," said one member of FOA, a private group of conservatives working in Hollywood.

Following GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's announcement to name Mike Pence as his running mate at an event in New York on Saturday, Hollywood's progressives are no doubt readying themselves for Round 2 against the governor of Indiana, after Round 1 had them threatening boycotts in retaliation for a religious freedom bill he signed.

After he did so last year, Miley Cyrus, Ashton Kutcher and Apple CEO Tim Cook and others labeled him anti-gay, while the NCAA, the GenCon gaming convention and Star Trek actor George Takei said they'd consider taking their business to other states.

Pence eventually modified the law, adding language that outright discrimination would still be illegal, and the controversy blew over. Expect it to be resurrected.

Already, MoveOn.org, for example, is asking for donations to make videos slamming Pence by reminding viewers of the religious freedom bill, his stance against same-sex marriage, abortion and Planned Parenthood, and his objections to allowing men and women who are openly gay to serve in the military.

The much smaller Hollywood right, on the other hand, is embracing Pence as a reliable conservative who can blunt some of Trump's more liberal tendencies. Pence is a proven tax-cutter, a strong opponent of Obamacare, an unambiguous supporter of Israel and an all-around advocate of limited government, they say.

"This is a very good moment," said writer-director-producer Lionel Chetwynd, a co-founder of Friends of Abe, the private group of conservatives working in Hollywood. "I liked Newt Gingrich, too, but he's cut from the same rebel cloth as Trump, so he'd have been a multiplier. Pence gives the ticket a new dimension. He's steadfast."

On the flip side, pundit Ann Coulter, arguably Trump's largest cheerleader, has taken to Twitter to blast Pence, in part because he was a proponent of a program that would have allowed illegal aliens to obtain guest-worker visas.

"No doubt Mike Pence is in his hotel, angrily pacing and shouting, 'Dammit! What the hell is France?" Coulter tweeted, referencing a terrorist attack celebrated by ISIS that killed more than 80 people in France on Thursday.

"The most important thing for Trump to consider in choosing his VP is carrying Indianapolis," she later joked via Twitter.

Coulter, though, seems in the minority, as dozens of FOA members who spoke to The Hollywood Reporter agreed with Chetwynd, though many spoke on the condition of anonymity citing the possibility of discrimination from their liberal counterparts in the entertainment industry. 

"It's good to finally see a politician who isn't dropping his Pence," quipped Evan Sayet, a comedian who also is an FOA member. "He's conservative and very articulate and I do think it will make a difference with those reluctant conservatives all around the country and here in Hollywood, as well."

Even those who are skeptical of Trump will vote for him and Pence if for no other reason than they want presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton defeated, they say.

"This election is so big. It isn't about liberal and conservative factions," said Chetwynd. "More people are unsure how they'll vote than ever before. Hillary is of the mind that there's nothing wrong with the system, she just needs to be running it, and give away more free stuff. The rest of us want to empty out the closet in an orderly fashion."

While there are screenings of God's Not Dead 2 and Dinesh D'Souza's Hillary's America planned for next week's Republican National Convention, with many of the filmmakers and actors in attendance, some who might normally attend the proceedings told THR they are skipping it this year. Jon Voight, for example, will be filming his Ray Donovan TV show instead. Others, though, have more provocative reasons.

"I don't know anyone who is actually paying to go there," said one FOA member. "It wouldn't be any fun. "There's going to be too many intellectual snobs, the punditry, who can't get it through their heads to stop telling people what to think and instead listen to the constituency. We'll end up shouting at each other, and the snobs will have their heads cut off."

Among the celebrities who are reportedly part of the official program at the convention are professional golfer Natalie Bulbis, tech billionaire Peter Thiel and, of course, Trump's wife, Melania, a former supermodel. Scott Baio also tweeted Saturday that he would attend the convention as a speaker after being personally invited by Trump. 

While Hollywood's progressive activists probably know Pence for his religious convictions that run counter to their own — he once said, "I am a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order" — they may not know that he honed his communications skills decades ago as a member of the media. 

In the 1990s, Pence hosted a talk-radio show, even referring to himself as "Rush Limbaugh on decaf," that was syndicated on 18 radio stations throughout Indiana, and later he hosted a Sunday morning political TV show in his home state.

"Hillary and whoever she chooses as her running mate may not know it now, but they'll have a tough time debating Pence. He's very media-savvy," said one FOA member.

Of course, FOA is not a monolithic community and there are still some never-Trumpers, like talk-radio host and best-selling author Ben Shapiro. 

"Nobody cares about the selection of Mike Pence, other than the immediate members of Mike Pence's family, and perhaps some people who were eagerly looking for an excuse to back Trump," Shapiro told THR.

July 16, 8:15 p.m: Updated with Baio's tweet.