Republican in Hollywood: Not So Taboo Anymore

Are conservative celebrities less concerned about going against the political grain of the entertainment industry?

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Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Singer Kelly Clarkson performs during the "VH1 Divas Celebrates Soul" at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City in December 2011.

Recently, singer Kelly Clarkson Tweeted her support of Republican primary candidate Ron Paul and saw her album sales for that week plummet 40%, according to Billboard. Clearly it’s yet another example of how people in the entertainment industry are punished if they foolishly give voice to any conservative views they might be better off harboring in secret.

Except not really. The decline in sales was taken out of context. It was the week after Christmas, when all album sales typically drop off as the holiday shopping season comes to an end. Indeed, according to USA Today, Clarkson’s album sales declined less that same week than those of Adele, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Beyonc√©. Clarkson is also expected to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, so it’s clear that Clarkson hasn’t exactly crippled her career by supporting a libertarian.

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It’s so taken for granted that the entertainment industry leans to the left that in some circles the words Hollywood and liberal are practically synonyms and a non-liberal is considered a curiosity, if not downright freakish. 24 creator (and personal friend of Rush Limbaugh) Joel Surnow has repeatedly discussed how his rightward political views make him an outsider in a left-of-center business, even blaming some of the difficulties encountered by his miniseries The Kennedys on the industry’s opinion of his conservatism. But while the vast majority of the entertainment industry’s denizens may indeed vote Democratic, it’s growing less monolithic.

It’s true that in the 2008 presidential election, celebrities who backed Republican John McCain were the exception rather than the rule, including such seemingly past-their-peak personages as Stephen Baldwin, Dean Cain, Kelsey Grammer and Jon Voight (who, incidentally, had a multi-episode run as a 24 villain the following year.) Perhaps this was because stars whose greatest fame had already been reached felt they had less to lose than conservative up-and-comers who might have thought it prudent for their career prospects to keep their politics to themselves. Since the majority of big Hollywood names are either known blue-staters (George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, etc.) or just assumed to be (most of the rest of the A-list), entertainers with conservative views might have sensed a hostile environment.

But McCain’s supporters also included living legends like Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris and Robert Duvall. And as of Sunday, Kelsey Grammer is a Golden Globe winner for his lead role on the Starz series Boss, so his support of Michele Bachmann this year doesn’t seem to have hurt him much. And other current celebrities are coming out for the Republican primaries as well; rapper Prodigy has voiced support for Paul, as has actor Vince Vaughn (which The Office writer and cast member Mindy Kaling Tweeted “makes me like him more”), while Russell Crowe has been linked to Rick Perry.

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High-profile liberals like Sean Penn, Barbra Streisand and Tim Robbins have often been told by critics to keep their opinions to themselves after speaking out on their liberal politics. Of course, celebrities have as much right to voice their opinions as anyone else; it’s just that the media amplifies their views more than those of the guy sitting next to you at the bar. We also have the same right to agree or disagree with celebrities as we do to disagree with the guy on the next stool. But no one ever seems to ask the rich and famous to shut up about political opinions they agree with. As more of Hollywood feels comfortable making a public shift to the right, people of all political persuasions will be able to find plenty of famous people they wish would just “shut up and perform.”