Ari Emanuel’s Aspen Assault on Joe Biden and the Dems

Ari Emanuel insists he’s a kinder and gentler man these days, but in the wake of June 27’s presidential debate, the hard-driving agency head is still fighting mad at Joe Biden and his top aides.

Appearing before a packed house at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, the Endeavor CEO had been invited to talk with the festival’s acting curator Tina Brown about his Hollywood career. But with Biden’s frail performance dominating the headlines, Brown made a quick detour. “Democrats are jumping out of the window,” she began after Emanuel took his seat. “What are you thinking?”

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“Well, I’m pissed off at the founding fathers,” said Emanuel. “They had the start date of 35 years old, they just didn’t give us the end date. And, well, everybody died [back then], so they didn’t have to give the end date.”

Emanuel blamed Biden’s advisers for being less than candid about his physical stamina and mental acuity and blasted the president for reneging on a campaign pledge to step aside after a single term. “He said he was going to run for one term, and he’s doing it to restore democracy. He then runs for a second term — that’s the first bit of malarkey, as he would say. He and his cohorts have told us that he’s [been] healthy for over a year,” Emanuel continued.

“I had a father who died at 92, but at 81 I took away his car, and it was a very simple test for me,” he said to loud applause. “If you were driving from downtown Beverly Hills to Malibu, would you want Biden to do it at night? Would you want Trump to do it at night? If the answer is neither, you cannot have them running a $27 trillion company called the United States.”

Asked for his impressions of Trump, Emanuel responded more carefully. “He is who he is. I don’t know if he’s slowed down. I have no idea. You know, he looked OK [while he was up] there,” adding ominously, “He will do what he says [in a second term]. That’s what he does. That’s what we should be expecting.”

He suggested that the two candidates had something in common. “Donald Trump said, ‘I’m the only one.’ Right? ‘I alone can make all these problems go away.’ And now Biden is saying ‘I’m the only one that can beat Trump.’ Seems like it’s pretty similar here, [but] we have a great bench in the Democratic Party. We’re looking at a man who’s saying the other guy’s a liar, and he’s telling us malarkey!”

Emanuel, a prolific Democratic donor, said the late-in-the-game concerns about Biden’s viability left the party with little room to maneuver. “Brokered convention, no. Now there’s some question whether the delegates can do something … so lawyers have to look at this … The lifeblood to a campaign is money, and maybe the only way this gets [solved] is if the money starts drying up,” said Emanuel, whose brother Rahm, a onetime chief of staff to President Obama, now serves as the administration’s ambassador to Japan.

“You’ll see in the next couple weeks, if the money comes in … I talked to a bunch of big donors, and they’re moving all their money to Congress and the Senate. It’s a legal issue now,” he sighed, a situation that he said left Democrats with few tenable options. “Maybe there’s some wiggle room, but I haven’t seen it. I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer, but we’re in fuck city!”

The Aspen Ideas Festival, which is celebrating its 20th year this summer, is usually a tranquil event that brings out powerbrokers from politics, media and the arts for panels and debates about current events. This year Peter Thiel, Michael Eisner, Sam Altman, David Petraeus and a swarm of former and sitting Senators, including John Kerry and Kay Bailey Hutchinson were on hand to discuss topics from the environment to the war in Gaza. But in the first days after the debate, the only topic on everyone’s mind was Joe Biden. At parties and panels across the Aspen Institute’s immaculately-manicured campus, the fate of the president and the alarming prospect of a Trump victory was a constant refrain among the Festival’s progressive-leaning patrons.

Emanuel had even harsher words for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he’d skewered in a fiery address at the Simon Wiesenthal Center last month. “I think he’s a narcissist,” Emanuel replied, when asked what had prompted his well-publicized broadside against Bibi. “I think for the last 20 years, Netanyahu has only done one thing and that’s stay in power. His bunch of Cabinet members are causing huge problems. And the ultra-orthodox and the right wing in Israel are causing problems in the West Bank. The [Palestinians] should have a homeland. Look, my grandparents had the first pharmacy in Israel. I remember going after the Six Day War … So my commitment to Israel is known. Netanyahu has done one thing and one thing only — stayed in power, and he doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t deserve my family’s legacy and the legacy of people in Israel. The Palestinians have deserved better in the West Bank. And it’s for us as Jews that we want to give them homeland — for our survival. We’re not giving them anything … And we have to stop with all these selfish leaders across the globe that think that they need to hold on for the rest of their lives, because they alone can do it.”

At a luncheon following Emanuel’s appearance, a politically connected studio executive told The Hollywood Reporter that a few of his alarmed associates had called Jeffrey Katzenberg, the co-chair of the Biden campaign, seeking comfort or clarification. Katzenberg, who spent the weekend squiring the president to the Hamptons, apparently offered neither. “I think Jeffrey was as surprised by this as everyone else,” said the loose-lipped exec. “He knows the optics aren’t great, but he says the fundamentals are still solid; everyone just needs to hold the line. But Jeffrey’s from Hollywood, right? He knows that optics are everything.”

Later that day, another Hollywood heavyweight, active in national politics, confided over cocktails that some of his well-funded colleagues were mounting an intense lobbying effort to convince another Democrat to enter the race. “They’re calling Newsom and Whitmer and Josh Shapiro,“ he said. “Basically, anyone with a pulse and a base.”

Despite the doomcasting from some Hollywood Democrats, not everyone in Aspen was ready to write Biden off. Pollster Celinda Lake, a veteran of Democratic campaigns, counseled patience, noting that debates generally have negligible impact on presidential elections. Conservative lawyer George Conway, the MAGA-loathing ex-husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, said the panic was premature. “There’s still a lots of time to correct this.” he said. “Four months is an eternity in politics.”

California Rep. Katie Porter sounded a similar note. “I’m not sure what everyone is so shocked about,” she said. “Nobody said he was a great debater. But when you look at what he has achieved in his first term, on all sorts of progressive priorities, I think it’s safe to say Biden is the best president we have had in 50 years, and you don’t want to dump someone like that so casually.”

For his part, after he was finished warning about the danger to American democracy, Emanuel couldn’t resist a parting shot at a fellow Aspen attendee: OpenAI CEO Altman. “I think he’s a conman,” he said in reply to a question about the controversial AI tycoon. “Elon gave him a lot of money — it was supposed to be a nonprofit, now he’s making a lot of money. I don’t know why I would trust him. I don’t know why we would trust these people.” (According to public filings, Musk contributed more than $44 million into OpenAI between 2016 and 2020.)

“Elon said to me once — this scared me — he said; ‘You know Ari, your relationship with your dogs? … Think about it the following way. You’re the dog to the AI,’” Emanuel told the rapt audience. “I don’t want to be a dog.” (Altman declined to comment.)

Despite his combative posture, Emanuel insists he’s become less intense over the past few years — a gentler man than the Entourage character he famously inspired. “There was a period of time I ran the agency with a lot of anger, a lot of fear, a lot of pressure,” he recalled. “Then I did a lot of work on myself, and there was a transition period where we had a lot of businesses … the fear and anger was not conducive to the size we were at. So I have, I’ve changed. I still keep a lot of pressure. [But] I don’t go crazy on people the way I did, as that [show] satirized. And I kind of realize, you know, that there are other ways to get to the end. It’s worked out. I’m not perfect, because sometimes I do get angry, but it’s so much better. I mean, Mondays were really bad for people, because I would be thinking about things, seeing things, and I would come in and it would just be a volcano, oh, it would be horrible … It’s just not a way to live your life.”

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