Lights, Camera, Taking Action – The Hollywood Celebrity

The big three celebrity politicians Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump, and Ronald Reagan, in front of the Hollywood Sign.

Tyler Letcher

The big three celebrity politicians Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump, and Ronald Reagan, in front of the Hollywood Sign.

Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Bono – what do you think of when you hear these names? 

Half of you would think of celebrities, and you’d be correct; however, another half of you would think of politicians, and you’d also be correct. Celebrities in politics aren’t new, however, they seem to be more and more commonplace and accepted in today’s political climate. From celebrity doctors like Dr. Oz running for the Senate to reality TV stars running for presidencies, celebrities have not only made their marks on the Walk of Fame but also on legislative bodies. But how did this come to be, and what does this mean for our political system? 

After the Trump days, celebrities in politics are more numerous than ever. Dr. Oz is running for a senate seat in Pennsylvania, Kanye West tried to run for president, Caitlyn Jenner ran for California governor, Matthew McConaghey is considering running for governor of Texas – and this list is expected to grow in the coming years. One might argue, however, that the modern celebrity politician began in the 1960s, when B-movie actor Ronald Reagan ran, and successfully so, for the governorship of California.

Being propelled into the spotlight by giving a televised speech for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964, Reagan won the California governor’s race in 1966 and was re-elected to a second term in 1970. This wasn’t his last foiree into politics, however, as while he attempted to receive the Republican nomination in 1968 and 1972, he officially won the nomination, and the presidency, for 2 terms starting in 1980.

Reagan’s legacy as a classical conservative showed many that even though they saw him as nothing more than an actor, to begin with, with the help of his cabinet and advisors, as well as his own morals and abilities to lead, he was able to still be able to be an effective leader, while not using his fame to his advantage – or a hindrance.

Sonny Bono, of the musical duo Sonny and Cher, was half of the musical powerhouse that pumped out hits such as “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On”. Later on in life, Sonny found his new calling – one as a conservative Republican politician. Running for mayor of Palm Springs, California, he won the post from 1988 to 1992 and was elected as a Representative from California’s 44th Congressional District from 1994 until his death in 1998.

Jesse Ventura is a bit of an oddball in the political field, even more so than most other celebrities listed here. Mainly a wrestler and an actor, he began running for the Governorship of Minnesota in 1998, on a Reform Party ticket and a low budget. Running with a slogan urging voters not to “vote for politics as normal”, he surprisingly won against both Democratic and Republican candidates, serving from 1999 to 2003. A year after taking office, however, he swapped parties to the Independence Party of Minnesota and stayed with them for the remainder of his term.

Similar to Ventura’s ventures into politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger won two terms as California’s governor from 2003 to 2011 following a successful recall of the state’s former governor, Democrat Gray Davis. Running as a fiscal and cultural conservative, Schwarzenegger won mostly due to his fame as a bodybuilder and actor, as well as his name recognition in the oversaturated field of 135 candidates. Receiving 48.5% of the vote, while Schwarzenegger wasn’t the most qualified candidate by far, running against names such as Cruz Bustamante, Democratic lieutenant governor, his name recognition in an oversaturated field helped bring him across the finish line.

Quite possibly the most well-known and relevant name on this list, however, would be now-former president, Donald Trump. While he served as President of the U.S. as a Republican from 2017 to 2021, his outspoken political stances began to take place years prior. Beginning in the 1980s, Trump would sporadically discuss running for the presidency, which was often disregarded as being for publicity. However, from 2000 to the mid-2010s, he kept a high profile in politics and in elections, raising eyebrows – and wonders whether or not he was serious about running for office.

In 2015, under the Republican party, he officially announced his candidacy for presidency in the 2016 election, which confused many, as he was still seen as mainly a political outsider at the time. With slogans of “Make America Great Again” and “Drain the Swamp”, he did seem to understand the base of those he wished to gain the trust – and support – of. Making himself known as the political outsider in the 2016 election, he quickly began to top opinion polls for the Republican party, and, similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger and the 2003 California Governor’s race, the Republican primaries were so oversaturated with candidates that even if people were unaware of policy and personality of those who were running, Trump’s name recognition alone was enough to win him the nomination for his party, and eventually the election.

Throughout the 4 years of his presidency, Trump would frequently meet with celebrities, even going so far as to nominate Linda McMahon, former WWE executive, and wife of Vince McMahon, as the administrator of the Small Business Administration. His ties with celebrities certainly didn’t end with his political administration, as he rubbed elbows with them whenever he had the chance.

The celebrities we’ve seen successfully get into politics have paved the way for others like them to at least attempt to accomplish what those before them have done. The public now though, may be a little star-strung out with this influx of Hollywood-D.C. transplants. However, with the name recognition and charm of these stars, these celebrities that wish to run for office should likely have a place in our nation’s future.