Hollywood Conservatives to the Never-Trumpers: Time to Rally Around the Donald
"Trump laughs at Barbra Streisand's and Steven Spielberg's money, while Hillary scrounges on the floor for Hollywood's pennies. Americans prefer Trump's approach," says Shawn Steel, California's RNC representative.
At the end of this month, some wealthy California Republicans — including some Hollywood movers and shakers who lean right, in famously liberal Tinseltown — had scheduled an anti-Trump strategy session. Insiders say the gathering hasn't been canceled yet, but with Donald Trump the presumptive GOP nominee now that Ted Cruz and John Kasich are out, the agenda probably will need some tweaking.
Some of those involved in the secret meeting are "never-Trumpers," meaning they'll vote for a third-party candidate or not at all rather than cast their lot with the former host of The Celebrity Apprentice. But judging from dozens of conversations with members of Hollywood's mostly underground community of conservatives, these never-Trumpers are in the minority — big-time.
"Trump knows people here, he has hired people here, and Hollywood loves the familiar. He's the first candidate since Ronald Reagan to have roots here," says writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, one of the founders of Friends of Abe, a private group of Hollywood conservatives better known by its "FOA" acronym.
"Most in our community are opting for Trump now — some will later — and only about two that I know of are never-Trumpers," he says.
One is Ben Shapiro, who has for weeks been telling listeners to his KRLA 870 AM radio show in Los Angeles that he won't vote for Trump or Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
"In Predator vs. Alien, I choose no one," he says, though he acknowledges that most right-leaners in the entertainment industry disagree with him.
"Hollywood is full of insular know-nothings with superiority complexes, and Trump is one of them," says Shapiro. "He has their tendencies — arrogant, bloviating. Of course he's popular here. Hollywood is not a place for small egos."
He adds: "Hollywood and New York brushed a bunch of stripper glitter on this guy, and now they find him sexy."
Jeremy Boreing, a filmmaker who runs FOA, confirms that Trump "has a lot of friends" within the group of 2,300, especially after he addressed them in July.
"The party of Abraham Lincoln is now the party of Donald Trump," says Boreing. "Our long legacy of championing human freedom, small government and individual liberty is now in his hands. I hope it guides him."
While several insiders say Trump could easily raise money in Hollywood, Shawn Steel, the RNC representative for California, says the candidate may be better off without it.
"Trump laughs at Barbra Streisand's and Steven Spielberg's money, while Hillary scrounges on the floor for Hollywood's pennies. Americans prefer Trump's approach," says Steel. "This will be one of the most amazing elections in 200 years, and for the first time pop culture will dominate."
"Hillary is the equivalent of a movie producer, selling favors to all sides, and she's going to burn people," he says. "The political class doesn't understand Trump, and Hillary has no idea what she's in for. He's in a class of his own in terms of celebrity. Who can resist him when he's on TV?"
Some Hollywood conservatives worry the news media now will take aim at Trump. But one of his earliest and biggest supporters, Ann Coulter, says any attacks will largely bounce off the Donald.
"They won't go after his real weaknesses … no political experience, brash, the gold fixtures," Coulter quips. "Instead, they'll do what they always do: Scream 'racist.' … It's all we've heard for the last nine months, and Trump has won more votes in the primary than anyone else in history, so good luck to them."
Chetwynd adds: "A little humility from the press would be justified."
"They don't understand what's going on," he says. "This isn't the Republican party running — it's an insurgency. … The dumbest remark I heard after Trump locked up the nomination was from Geraldo Rivera, who predicted Donald will swing to the center and stop talking about building a wall. If Trump does that, the wheels will come off this country. The people already feel so betrayed, and Trump knows it."
Actor and L.A. County GOP chair Mark Vafiades says that while some celebrities are outwardly for Trump — Jon Voight, Ted Nugent, Robert Davi, and Scott Baio among them — there are many more who are less vocal about their support.
"Now that he's the guy, more will come out for him," he says, adding that even though Trump wasn't his first choice, he's glad the GOP primary is essentially over.
"It was so contentious that if it dragged out longer, it would have been very destructive," he says. "On the other side, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are going at it. Bernie keeps getting more votes, while Hillary gets more delegates, leading to more animosity among Democrats."
Another thing that may encourage Hollywood conservatives to embrace Trump is the wealth in the community.
"People in this town have made a lot of money, and he should remind them what is at stake," says a conservative money manager with entertainment industry clients. "Trump wants to remove the 40 percent death tax. The current exemption is for the first $5.45 million. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders want to lower that to $3.5 million. I promise you, no one is telling anyone in Hollywood about these numbers."