Hollywood’s Democratic Dam Breaks: As Biden Loses Celebrity Donors, Will DC Crack?

Last month, movie star and lifelong Democrat George Clooney co-hosted a fundraiser for Joe Biden in Los Angeles that raised over $30 million for the sitting president’s reelection campaign.

Three weeks later, Clooney called for Biden to step aside on Wednesday in an explosive op-ed in The New York Times that could prove a decisive moment for celebrities and high-profile Democrats who have thus far stayed silent about the president.

“We are not going to win in November with this president,” Clooney wrote.

Democratic advisors and commentators said the Clooney op-ed was significant, not just because the actor cuts a large profile, but because he made the statement in the Times, and that doing so provides cover for others who have been reluctant to say what they really think.

“It’s a big blow,” said Donna Bojarsky, a longtime advisor to Democratic donors in Hollywood. “Because he’s so respected and because he did it in such a public and devastatingly honest manner, this will make it easier for others to offer their opinions, both within Hollywood and, I hope, among elected officials.”

Experts said that Clooney’s essay could trigger other influential Hollywood fundraisers to join the calls for Biden to step aside and have a significant impact on Democratic fundraising efforts.

“The dam of support for Biden has not burst,” Kamy Akhavan, executive director of the USC Center for Political Future, told TheWrap. “But there are holes in it, and Clooney has poked a big one.”

The op-ed immediately set off ripples on Wednesday. Director Rob Reiner, another prominent Democratic donor, also said Biden should step aside, as did actor Michael Douglas.

“The more important thing is paying attention to which donors are saying they will not fund him anymore,” Steve Ross, USC history professor and author of “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics,” told TheWrap.

If Hollywood power broker Jeffery Katzenberg, a co-chair of the Biden campaign, decides to pull his funding support, Ross said, “then you’re going to have a very serious problem, because how is [Biden] going to fund his campaign in the last few months?”

TheWrap previously reported that after Biden’s debate performance Katzenberg had fielded calls from angry donors, who told him they were moving their money to Congressional down-ballot races. Katzenberg has been silent since the CNN debate two weeks ago.

Biden has resisted calls to pull out of the race, saying in a letter on Monday to fellow Democrats that he was “firmly committed to staying in this race, to running this race to the end, and to beating Donald Trump.”

In response to a query from TheWrap on Wednesday about Clooney’s essay, a person close to the Biden campaign pointed to “pre-existing tensions with Clooney” related to potential sanctions against his wife Amal Clooney for her legal work related to Israeli military action in Gaza.

The Hollywood donor machine

Hollywood endorsements, and the dollars that follow, have proven influential for Democratic candidates in the past. When then-Sen. Barack Obama was campaigning for his first presidential run in 2007, Oprah Winfrey hosted a sold-out fundraiser for the Democratic nominee at her Montecito estate with over 1,500 A-listers in attendance. The endorsement was so pivotal for the two-term president, it became known as “The Oprah Effect.”

Pop superstar Taylor Swift broke her political silence in 2018 when she spoke out in favor of the Democratic party in her home state of Tennessee in hopes of protecting queer rights.

Hillary Clinton received over 150 celebrity endorsements during her campaign in 2016, but it still wasn’t enough to beat former president (and a celebrity in his own right) Donald Trump in the electoral college.

“Celebrity endorsements don’t decide an election,” Mindy Romero, founder and director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at USC told TheWrap. But, she added, Biden’s “reelection bid right now, obviously, is on shaky ground.”

Douglas, a longtime Biden supporter, appeared on “The View,” where he said the Clooney essay made “a valid point.” The actor added: “I’m deeply, deeply concerned. I mean, especially, it’s difficult because the Democrats have a big bench. They’ve got a lot of heavy-hitters.”

Reiner joined Clooney in urging Biden to step down, despite all the “love and respect” he said he has for the president. “Democracy is facing an existential threat,” Reiner wrote on X.  “We need someone younger to fight back. Joe Biden must step aside.”

The actor-director’s latest tweet was a shift from Reiner’s earlier support for the president. “If we see the Joe Biden that appeared on ‘Morning Joe’ today every day until Nov. 5, he’ll be able to shut up people like me who think he should step aside,” he said in an X post on Monday.

Reiner also hosted a “pride-themed” garden party with Vice President Harris on June 29 at his Brentwood home.

The celebrities joined a chorus of other big-ticket Democratic donors and celebrities in Hollywood, including Reed Hastings, Ari Emanuel and others, in publicly voicing concerns about Biden’s ability to not only beat Trump in November but to serve out the four years of a potential second term.

The dam of support for Biden has not burst. But there are holes in it, and Clooney has poked a big one.”

Kamy Akhavan, executive director of the USC Center for Political Future

The calls from inside Hollywood make it clear that concerns about Biden’s mental acuity, exposed during June’s disastrous debate, have not been quelled in the days and weeks since, despite the campaign’s aggressive effort to assert that a decision has already been made that Biden is the Democratic nominee.

But as prominent politicians in Washington, D.C., and Democratic party officials continue to back Biden or find ways to evade publicly asking for him to step aside, the swell of Hollywood elites coming forward could tip the scales.

The impact of Clooney’s op-ed “is drawing eyeballs to candidates, which is what traditionally movie stars have done, to get voters to pay attention,” Ross said. “In this case, it’s less about voters paying attention, then getting Biden to pay attention and step down.”

Michael Douglas attends the UK Gala Screening of Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Michael Douglas (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

But while the “Syriana” actor is a cultural influencer, “he is not the person that is going to compel Joe Biden to do or not do something,” Akhavan said. That message would have to be relayed by top Democratic leaders to compel any legitimate consideration from the campaign, he said.

Clooney was direct and unvarnished in his op-ed on Wednesday, noting the reluctance of Democrats to say publicly what he has been told privately.

“It’s devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe ‘big F-ing deal’ Biden of 2010. He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.”

Clooney continued: “This isn’t only my opinion; this is the opinion of every senator and congress member and governor that I’ve spoken with in private. Every single one, irrespective of what he or she is saying publicly.”

Top Biden Democratic Party officials have yet to officially break ranks and call for Biden’s withdrawal, providing far more muted responses to questions about his ability to win the race and lead the country.

Rob Reiner attends the 24th Annual Beverly Hills Film Festival - day three at TCL Chinese Theatre on May 03, 2024 in Hollywood, California
Rob Reiner (Credit: Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)

When asked about the president and his fitness for another term, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday, “I’m with Joe,” declining to comment further at his weekly press conference. Rep. Jim Clyburn echoed Schumer’s sentiments, saying “We’re ridin’ with Biden,” as he exited a closed-door meeting with House Democrats.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker and a longtime Biden ally, gave one of the strongest public signals yet from a high-profile Democratic member that the party remains divided on Biden’s insistence on staying in the race, saying on “Morning Joe” that “time is running short” for him to make a decision.

“It’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run,” she said, asserting that Biden has not yet made an official decision.

Meanwhile, the campaign has been clear that the opposite is true.

“This has made it a greater challenge for him to win and I think he is weakened,” Romero told TheWrap. “This decision is still his, but the longer these conversations go on, the harder it gets [for him].”

The post Hollywood’s Democratic Dam Breaks: As Biden Loses Celebrity Donors, Will DC Crack? appeared first on TheWrap.