For all their talk of “Hollywood liberals,” the Republicans sure seem to love a good silver-screen presidential contender. An article in last Thursday’s New York Times confirmed the imminent candidacy of Law and Order star and former US Senator Fred Thompson, noting his conservative background and widespread name recognition.
If Ronald Reagan’s presidency taught us anything about political communication, it’s that polished oratorical skills can go a long way, and clearly being an actor can bring that to the table. But from a PR standpoint, the benefits for candidates from the entertainment industry extends beyond performance skills. To begin with, they have name recognition, which is half the battle (a battle that a number of presidential hopefuls will likely lose). They also have a fan base and an established presence in the public sphere. But most importantly they have that elusive aura—a certain celebrity status, and a unique kind of attraction that draws people to them.
American politics is replete with examples of this, from Pro Wrestler Jesse Ventura (former Governor, Minnesota) to Arnold Schwarzenegger (Governor, California). Celebrities outside the entertainment industry have also been successful in politics—there have been football stars (Jack Kemp), rock stars (John Hall), and astronauts (John Glenn). The point is that the candidate who comes from a different kind of background and speaks a different kind of language can make a formidable contender. And this outside-the-box quirkiness can attract all kinds of press attention.
Fred Thompson has a lot of catching up to do if he wants a shot at his party’s nomination. But if he uses his assets wisely, his stint in acting coupled with his previous political experience could give him the jump start he needs, both from a PR standpoint and a fundraising one.