De Niro, Clooney … Chuck Norris? Biden and Trump seek star power for election boost

<span>Both George Clooney and Robert De Niro are set to lend their star power to Biden’s re-election campaign, while Chuck Norris has in the past touted Trump’s appeal.</span><span>Composite: AP, Getty Images</span>
Both George Clooney and Robert De Niro are set to lend their star power to Biden’s re-election campaign, while Chuck Norris has in the past touted Trump’s appeal.Composite: AP, Getty Images

Once heard, never forgotten, the voice is familiar to admirers of The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Heat, The Irishman and countless others. “Trump wants revenge,” says Robert De Niro, “and he’ll stop at nothing to get it.”

This was an ad released on Friday by Joe Biden’s campaign to remind voters of Donald Trump’s dark and divisive presidency and warn that his return to power could be even worse. The use of De Niro – a fierce Trump critic – as narrator was no accident but a reminder of the power of celebrities at the ballot box in America.

Every four years candidates are eager to recruit big names who might wield influence over the electorate, not least young first-time voters. This time, with both Biden and Trump suffering low approval ratings, and with the race set to be extremely close, any addition of star power could be crucial in breaking through the noise.

“In this election celebrity involvement and celebrity endorsements and celebrity education is the most important that it’s ever been in American history,” said Richard Greene, a political communication strategist based in Los Angeles. “It is absolutely essential that celebrities and influencers help break through the disinformation and misinformation and lack of information that is being generated by people relying on often crazy, useless and counterproductive social media posts.”

Related: Biden campaign releases De Niro-voiced video ad warning Trump has ‘snapped’

Biden’s campaign reportedly plans to host a major fundraiser in Los Angeles next month with the Hollywood actors George Clooney and Julia Roberts as well as former president Barack Obama. He has given interviews to the actors Will Arnett, Jason Bateman and Sean Hayes for their SmartLess podcast. In the coming months he will also hope to gain the backing of stars who backed him in 2020 such as Tom Hanks, Jennifer Hudson and the biggest prize of all: Taylor Swift.

But the president now has a record to defend. Last month wrestler turned actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the rapper Cardi B, both of whom voted for Biden in 2020, said they would not repeat the endorsements this time. Cardi B told Rolling Stone that she had experienced “layers and layers of disappointment”, adding: “I feel like people got betrayed.”

Still, Biden can count on a starrier lineup than Trump, whose past supporters have included the singers Jason Aldean and Kid Rock and actors Dean Cain, Kelsey Grammer, Chuck Norris and Jon Voight. Struggling for A-listers, the Republican candidate often tries to make a virtue of necessity by claiming to represent the forgotten people against the Hollywood elites.

This year, however, there is a wildcard in Robert Kennedy Jr, a conspiracy theorist and member of the famed political dynasty running as an independent candidate. Kennedy is married to Cheryl Hines, an actor who played Larry David’s wife on the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, although David has said he does not support Kennedy’s campaign.

The independent candidate’s supporters do include the actor Woody Harrelson, who narrated a documentary on behalf of his campaign, and Kevin Spacey, an Oscar-winning actor who has denied multiple allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour from men, claiming legal victories in New York and London.

Spacey wrote on X last month: “There’s a lot I can learn from this man. When the world turned its back on me, Bobby leaned in. He’s a formidable fighter for justice and a loyal friend that’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes.”

Kennedy is also benefiting from celebrity fundraisers. A recent “Night of Country & Comedy with Robert F Kennedy Jr and Friends” in Nashville was billed as featuring the comedians Russell Brand, Jim Breuer and Rob Schneider and musical performances by Kayley Bishop, John Carter Cash and Ana Cristina Cash. John Carter Cash is the only child of Johnny Cash and his second wife June Carter Cash.

But Greene commented: “Yes, Bobby Kennedy will collect some famous names but it will be minuscule compared to the growing list of far more significant names for Joe Biden. As we get closer to the actual election, more and more big names, celebrities and influencers will understand the consequences of the election, will be scared by the likely polling and will jump in, even bigger than they did in 2020.”

Much has changed since the days when Oprah Winfrey led a stellar lineup on behalf of candidate Barack Obama. The audacity of hope has given way to widespread cynicism towards politicians. The rise of TikTok, YouTube and other social media has given celebrities and influencers a direct line to millions of voters outside the party narratives.

David Litt, a former Barack Obama speechwriter, said: A George Clooney endorsement now is much more valuable for Biden than a George Clooney endorsement was for Obama in 2012 because if George Clooney just goes out there and says, hey, unemployment is low, people will listen to him who will not listen to a politician on either side of the aisle. They’re just done with politicians.

“That’s a huge difference. If you’re a celebrity now, you kind of play the role that an entire newspaper might have played back 20, 30 years ago.”

Litt, author of Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years, added: “Celebrities are better organised than they were 20 years ago because either they or their representatives are all on the same text chains. That means is it is easier for celebrities, if they want to, to not just endorse a campaign but to do stuff. That’s what you saw in 2020.

“Along those lines, the other big difference is if George Clooney sat down tomorrow and said, ‘I want to do a 30-second video about why I’m voting for Biden’, he can just do that. He doesn’t need to cut an ad for the campaign and that authenticity would actually be more powerful. Celebrities have more reach than ever and that gives them more influence than ever.”