Bernie Sanders Is Beating Joe Biden In the Race for Donations From Hollywood's Elite

When actor Jack Black got a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in 2018, he volunteered this political commentary: "Donald Trump's a piece of shit." In a recent column for Variety, Barbra Streisand was more circumspect but just as passionate, writing that Trump "has demolished our standing in the world with his laughable boasts and breathtaking ignorance."

But while anti-Trump sentiment is widespread among showbiz liberals, there is much less unanimity about which Democrat should take his place in the White House.

"We're spinning around trying to find our ass," says actor and activist Ed Asner. "We're all confused. But defeating Trump is more important than finding our ass." Asner has agreed to appear at an upcoming rally for Bernie Sanders though he hasn't yet decided who he'll officially endorse.

In terms of Hollywood fundraising, Pete Buttigieg had amassed $1.5 million, more than any other Democrat, before pulling out of the race following a weak showing in South Carolina. He threw his support to Joe Biden, as did Amy Klobuchar who had raised only $200,000 from Hollywood. Michael Bloomberg, who had been financing his own campaign, had been backed by Michael Douglas and Republican Clint Eastwood.

Of the remaining Democratic contenders, Sanders has collected the most in contributions from entertainers with $1.4 million. His celebrity supporters include Dick Van Dyke, Sarah Silverman and Public Enemy's Chuck D. Joe Biden has raised about $900,000. Cher, Rob Reiner and Alyssa Milano back his candidacy (Elizabeth Warren, who dropped out of the race on March 5, had raised about the same amount as Biden and been endorsed by Jack Black, Ashley Judd, Scarlett Johansson and Rosie O'Donnell).

Which Democrat is Winning the Hollywood Primary? Photo illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

Hollywood Democrats worry that disunity on their side only helps Trump. "Sometimes activism can be counterproductive," says Eric Braeden, the politically active star of TV soap The Young and the Restless, who is supporting Biden. "Do we need someone who can beat this clown, Trump? Of course. All of Hollywood should pledge to back Bernie, or Joe, or whoever the leading candidate is. We cannot afford this division."

Former M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell, who, along with Martin Sheen, was one of the faces of Hollywood's anti-Iraq War movement during the George W. Bush administration, says he's hearing whispers among celebrities who worry that Sanders not only won't beat Trump but that he could also cost the Democrats House and Senate seats. Farrell says he does not subscribe to that theory. He and Sheen had supported Warren.

"Politics is part of the conversation most of the time in Hollywood," says Farrell. "More than anything, we're concerned about finding someone who can beat Trump. Our concern over the horror of this man's leadership grows every day. It's been an issue for some time. You see these Trump supporters who are so passionate and so angry that I've heard stories of people losing friendships and even family relationships."

One celebrity tells Newsweek he lost a longtime friend who berated him for hours over his refusal to back Sanders. "Don't use my name in your story," he says.

The atmosphere is so heated, Asner says, that he avoids political discussions on studio sets."Of course there are fights in Hollywood over who to support, he says. "Everybody knows that. The only way we'll defeat Trump is uniting around a candidate."

Asner adds that he can tolerate arguments with fellow Democrats but can't stomach Trump supporters."There are some sick people that I know not to press because I suspect they back Trump. I can deal with them on every level except the presidency, and, if I find out they support Trump, I'd have trouble seeing them again," he says.

"I'm talking about actors," Asner says. "But they won't admit to supporting Trump They feel like Jews running from the Nazis. Hollywood is a progressive community and has no regard for them. There's no blacklist, though. Look at Jon Voight. He's right wing. I wouldn't say 'no' to working with him, but it would pain me to further his career."

Voight, who didn't respond to Newsweek's request for comment, is by far the president's most vocal celebrity supporter and has tweeted multiple videos backing him, one of them calling Trump "the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln."

President Trump, at a campaign rally on January 28 in New Jersey, has few public fans among big names in Hollywood. Ron Adar/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media/Getty

Most of Trump's other admirers in show business prefer to keep quiet about it. Eric Matthews, a celebrity money manager who for six years ran Friends of Abe, an organization of conservative stars like Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Robert Duvall and Gary Sinise, says, "Hollywood has created an environment where dissent isn't allowed, so there is growing secret support of Trump." Actor Antonio Sabato Jr. recently told Variety that his support for Trump made him unemployable in Hollywood.

In addition to donations, liberal stars are also promoting candidates with appearances—Van Dyke, Silverman and Public Enemy Radio at a Bernie Sanders rally on March 1, for example. Before his campaign ended, Kevin Costner narrated an online video for Buttigieg, who had been running a contest in which the prize was a meet-and-greet with himself and Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox.

But while candidates jockey for celebrity endorsements, the jury is out as to their effectiveness. "Nobody is going to switch parties because a star said nasty things about Trump," says John Pitney, professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College. "Celebrities can endow candidates with two important things: attention and money."

In the end, most stars willing to state their politics publicly will probably rally around whoever Democrats nominate, notwithstanding any possible fallout at the box office. A 2012 Penn Schoen Berland poll indicated that 52 percent of Republicans and 36 percent of Democrats would avoid paying for a movie starring an actor whose political views offend them.