How Confused Are the Celebrities Who Endorse Donald Trump?

Celebrities who support Trump
They're rich. They're famous. And they're all in for Donald Trump. Why? JASON KATZENSTEIN FOR NEWSWEEK

Aaron Carter. Stephen Baldwin. Tila Tequila. Ted Nugent.

It sounds like the cast of some hellish reality show. Actually, these are some of the celebrities who have endorsed or otherwise pledged support for Donald Trump's presidential candidacy. The list goes on: Scott Baio, Azealia Banks, Mike Tyson, Jesse James. Some have gone on national television to shower praise on the orange-haired billionaire; others have tweeted more reservedly about plans to vote for him.

The entertainment world is known to lean left—nobody flinches when Katy Perry lines up behind Hillary Clinton or Susan Sarandon and Mark Ruffalo appear on TV in support of Bernie Sanders. But the Trump backer is a rare breed in liberal Hollywood.

Much has been written about the psyche of the average Trump supporter: the guys in the "Make America Great Again" hats, the truck driver who's been laid off for months, the so-called "poorly educated" whites seduced by Trump's nationalistic message. Far less has been said about the candidate's appeal to the celebrity class, the glitzier and more glamorous underbelly of Trump support. These are not struggling voters in economically hard-hit regions—they are figures of prominence and wealth, supporting Trump not so much for their own betterment but because they believe their influence can help their country (or their careers). They speak to Trump's personal qualities—several of the celebrities we spoke to call him a friend—while holding up his aggression and inexperience as political virtues.

Their reasons vary, but interviews with these individuals also revealed some profound gaps in elementary election knowledge, from Baldwin denying that the candidate proposes to block Muslims from entering the country to Aaron Carter's tortured confusion over the U.S. voting age. Some of them deny climate change or dispute national unemployment statistics; Tila Tequila praised the candidate's widely discredited anti-vaccination remarks. Like Trump himself, the man's celebrity supporters evince a slippery grip on reality, as though the truth were some elusive fish that slithers out out of grasp the tighter you try to hold onto it.

How confused are Trump's celebrity supporters, really?

Trump's Big Heart

As Trump's candidacy has spun from "unpredictable" to "batshit surreal," his portfolio of celebrity endorsements has followed suit. When reporters first noticed an Endorsements page on Trump's website in February, it featured just two names, one of which was a misspelled "Sara Palin." Then, a month after Palin backed Trump, Chris Christie stepped forward to endorse the candidate in a press conference so tortured that Christie later had to insist he "wasn't being held hostage."

Stephen Baldwin, the actor and youngest Baldwin brother who became one of Trump's earliest vocal celebrity supporters during a CNN appearance in July, is also not being held hostage. And unlike Ben Carson, Baldwin probably isn't being promised a spot in a hypothetical Trump administration either. He says that while he likes Trump's promises to ward off political correctness, he mostly just likes the man himself.

"I've had the opportunity to see Mr. Trump a little bit behind the scenes," Baldwin tells Newsweek. "I consider him a friend." For Baldwin, as for thousands of Trump's disciples, the mogul's business acumen is a key selling point: "I think to have the level of success that he has, you have to be pretty smart."

He is not the only celebrity Trump endorser who's met Trump personally. Actor Scott Baio, famously of Happy Days and Charles in Charge, recalls meeting Trump and shaking his hand at a restaurant in the 1990s, while New England Patriot Tom Brady (who came out in support of The Donald back in September) is a longtime golfing buddy of Trump's. But in interviews, no one spoke as adoringly about Trump as Jesse James, the reality TV star and motorcycle customizer who got canned by Trump on the second season of Celebrity Apprentice.

James insists that Trump, who has publicly likened women to pigs and dogs, is genuinely a sweetheart. "I think anybody that knows him and has met him face-to-face and spent any time with him knows he's a good dude," says James, who stepped forward for Trump in January. "[He] has a big heart and really cares about people."

James isn't concerned with the intricacies of Trump's policy proposals. He likes that Donald Trump isn't concerned with those things, either. "As far as hard-core policies, I'm glad he's not up there saying, 'I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do that,'" James says. "Because that's what every politician does. I don't want to hear that." James considers Trump's presidential bid an act of humble devotion: He could be pursuing other ventures, but "he loves his country this much that he's gonna pause everything to make—what?—400 grand a year?"

That open-hearted affirmation of Trump's altruistic qualities contrasts with pro-Trump justifications from other celebs, who like the man's abrasive qualities. "The Republicans…need someone to just go on the attack constantly," argues Scott Baio. "And he's the only guy with the will to do it." Baio also likes that Trump hasn't held office before—he doesn't want a candidate with political experience. "How are we doing with the geniuses now?" he asks. "Doing great, aren't we? Unemployment probably 12 percent." (The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs that number around 5 or 6 percent; Trump regularly inflates it.)

Banks also sees potential in Trump's uglier side. The 24-year-old Harlem rapper tweeted in February, "I think I'm ready to admit that I'm going to vote for Donald Trump." Her justification would give poli–sci Ph.D students a headache: "I only trust this country to be what it is: full of shit. takes shit to know shit so we may as well, put a piece of shit in the White House," she tweeted.

Trump is evil just like his country, she concluded, so he gets the vote:

More recently, Banks tweeted a link to an article from The Root titled "5 Ways Black People Will Benefit From a Trump Presidency."

It is not clear whether she realized the article is a piece of satire.

Muslim Friends

Just because a celebrity supports Trump doesn't mean he or she supports Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Nor does it mean he or she even knows about it.

Baldwin, for instance, appeared to be unaware of Trump's widely denounced proposal. Trump, though, has been fairly explicit: The candidate released a statement in December "calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."

Baldwin seemed momentarily confused by this three-month-old development. At one point, he began referring to himself in the third-person to express disagreement with the proposal:

BALDWIN: I couldn't say that I agree with whatever it is he intends to plan or implement [regarding Muslim immigration], because I really don't know what that is yet.

NEWSWEEK: Well, he has put forward a plan to block Muslim entry into the United States.

BALDWIN: No, he has not. There is not a document that he has released that has that specific plan.

NEWSWEEK: He did release a document with that specific plan. This was in early December. He called for barring all Muslims entering the United States.

BALDWIN: Oh. OK. And you have a copy of that document?

NEWSWEEK: Yeah. He released a statement on his Twitter feed. [Reads quotes from statement aloud.]

BALDWIN: Right. And is that the document you're referring to?

NEWSWEEK: Yes. That is a statement that Trump's campaign released in December.

BALDWIN: Right. Just for clarification, I said that I don't think that they have released some plan specifying what that statement means and you said, "Yes, there is a document." What you're saying is on Twitter they made a statement and that's what you're referencing. Correct?

NEWSWEEK: Yes, I am referencing a statement Trump's campaign made on Twitter.

BALDWIN: Ok. This brings me back to what I said before. They can make a statement about something. But until they have sat down and expounded upon that statement and said, Yes, when we said blocking all Muslims I would think that it would be safe to say that if I'm a Muslim and I have a Visa and I can come back and forth from wherever I want to back into the United States, they're not going to deny those people. That would almost be illegal for them to do that. This is what's so funny about the repercussions of certain statements of Donald Trump. He's a very smart guy—but now he's got everyone wondering what he means and where he's coming from. And at the same time, believe you me, Stephen Baldwin does not agree with blocking all Muslims from coming in and out of this country until we solve the problem. But certainly Stephen Baldwin agrees with, if there are terrorists living in America, we should do something to find them and stop them! Do you agree with that?

Baldwin suggests Trump's anti-Muslim proposal is either a ploy for attention or too implausible to take seriously. This is not an uncommon justification for Trump's proposal: It simply can't be real.

Mike Tyson, a converted Muslim, recently reached for the same defense to explain his support of Trump: "It can't happen. He's just not gonna do that." Ted Nugent, in an email exchange with Newsweek, said he agrees with Trump's "real statements—not the dishonest misrepresentations as bandied about by the media."

Though his appeals to white resentment run deep, Trump has quieted on the Muslim ban since December. No wonder some of his most famous fans are in the dark. Jesse James, for instance, said he hasn't read the proposal. "He never said, 'Hey, block all Muslims coming to this country,'" James claims. "He said, 'Hey, we should pause on the refugees coming in at that immediate time because there is some threats to terrorism and there is refugees.'"

Have any pro-Trump celebrities actually denounced the proposed Muslim ban? Pop star Aaron Carter, who declared his support for Trump last month on Twitter, admitted to some outrage over it. But like Baldwin, Carter has faith that Trump can provide a totally reasonable explanation for his Islamophobic comments: "If I was to sit in front of Donald Trump, I would say: 'Why are you doing that?' And then I would ask him, and I would probably be able to give you some sort of answer."

The only celebrity interviewed by Newsweek who seemed both informed about Trump's proposal and willing to defend it at length was Baio, who stressed the importance of fending off terrorism and then also pointed out that he has a Muslim friend. Baio expressed concerns about being quoted out of context, so in the interest of transparency we've included the full exchange:

NEWSWEEK: Trump has come under attack for some comments he's made about Muslims, advocating blocking Muslim entry into the country. Do you agree with that?

BAIO: Do I agree with that? I do. I think we have to know who the hell's in the country. Then we can let people back in. I don't want to hear the argument anymore, "We can't do it." We've done it. We did it from 1920—we did it for like 35, 40 years. We stopped immigration. So people could assimilate. You could look it up. People choose not to—not you—I'm just saying people choose not to look at history. But listen, man! We saw what happened in Brussels. At what point do we just say, Hey. Who's here? I had this argument this other day. You have guests at your house. Don't you want to know who's in your house? If you see a stranger: "Who's that?" The first thing you do: "Who's this guy?" That's what I do. "Oh, he's a friend of so-and-so." "Well, what's he doing here? I didn't invite him." So why can't we know who's in the country? What have we become? The Constitution—and this is going to sound clichéd—is not a suicide pact. This is where I agree with Trump completely: We have a country or we don't. We have borders or we don't. If you want to go into Mexico, you can't stay there. They'll kick you out. But here? Come on in! We'll pay for you. Don't worry about it.

NEWSWEEK: But do you agree with Trump's plans to single out Muslims specifically?

BAIO: Who are the people that are blowing us up? Who are the people beheading Christians? Who is it? Who is it?

NEWSWEEK: It's the Islamic State.

BAIO: Right. So? If you know who's killing you, why would you keep dealing with people who are killing you? It's moronic!

NEWSWEEK: I think the counterargument would be that the Islamic State is not representative of most of the Muslims in the world or in this country.

BAIO: I'm not saying it is. Most Muslims are decent people. I have a very dear friend of mine who's a Muslim. And I love him.

NEWSWEEK: But you think we should specifically block them from entering the country...

BAIO: I think we should find out who's here, why they're here and what they want to do here. And we could do that easily by stopping it and then figuring, when you come in here, if you're from a Muslim state, you need to be vetted properly. And hey, man. I'm sorry. I like people coming here. I think you should sign the book on the way in. But if you're here from a Muslim country, you need—we need to know who you are. I don't want my kid getting blown up! You don't want your family getting blown up! I mean, my god! It's insane to me that you're even asking me this question! Should we? I mean, if somebody was breaking down the door to your house and it was the same people every time, wouldn't you be skeptical of those people?

NEWSWEEK: Sure. Yeah, I would be.

BAIO: That's my point. Anyway, do me a favor, don't, don't, don't—eh, you're gonna write what you write. But people tend to skew things in a way that's not fair. But don't worry about it. You write what you want to write.

Baio says he's tired of Trump supporters being called racist. "If you disagree with anybody about anything, you're a racist," he says, somewhat mockingly. "I'm just fed up with such an easy thing to say."

The "Oops" Endorsement

One day in January, Chingy accidentally endorsed Donald Trump for president.

It was all a big misunderstanding, says the Midwest rapper known for early-2000s hits like "Right Thurr" and "Holidae In." He woke up that morning, he says, and scrolled through Yahoo! News on his phone, as he does every morning, when an article loaded about Trump's campaign. As Chingy recalls, it detailed "the good things he was talking about doing for the U.S. and U.S. citizens and the ladies of the U.S. and the children." Like, for instance, solving the national debt.

Chingy was sold.

Like many of his celebrity peers, he hedged his Trump support in terms of business sense. "Politics vs. society. People should innerstand that politics is a business jus like the job you work at. I vote for @realDonaldTrump "YEP" 3," the rapper tweeted to his nearly 90,000 followers. Then, in what was widely construed as an endorsement: "@realDonaldTrump knows how to conduct business. This country is a business an needs to be ran by a businessman. It's not personal people!"

It's a universal property of the modern world that if you express an opinion about Trump online, somebody somewhere will get mad. Chingy, though, says he was alarmed to learn about the candidate's campaign rhetoric. "I didn't know about the negative things Donald Trump has said in the public as far as Mexicans go, as far as Muslims go," Chingy tells Newsweek. "I wasn't aware of none of the negativity he had put out there.… When I became aware of it, I was like, 'Aww, hell no. I definitely can't support that!'"

It was "an honest mistake," he says. But though Chingy walked back the would-be endorsement with a YouTube video, it was too late. The media had branded him a celebrity Trump endorser, ripe for music blog headlines and slideshow fodder.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally in West Allis, Wisconsin, United States, April 3, 2016. Jim Young/Reuters

Chingy still believes that Trump "has some great ideas," but says he won't vote for him. He's undecided. Asked who he would vote for if the election were held tomorrow, "I would say either Hillary Clinton, or—what's the guy's name that starts with a B?"

Curiously, Chingy is not the only celebrity reported to be pro-Trump who later disassociated himself from the "Make America Great Again" train. Actor Gary Busey reportedly endorsed Trump in September; now his rep tells us he doesn't support any political candidate. Even more recently, the media reported that MLB champion Pete Rose was a Trump supporter after Trump tweeted a photo of a baseball signed approvingly by Rose. But Rose's attorney told us Rose wasn't endorsing anybody, hadn't sent Trump the baseball, and is known for writing whatever message he's asked to write on a ball. Whether Trump is as confused as we are about the baseball or knows it's bogus and doesn't care is not clear.

Chingy, though, might find kinship with Carter, and not just because of their early-2000s pop pedigree. Carter also impulsively tweeted support for Trump and, when asked about it, betrayed deep confusion.

In a strange, rambling subsequent interview with Newsweek, Carter boasted about his Mayflower heritage, compared his self-starter independence to Trump's, claimed that Trump supported gay marriage in 2001 or 2002 (he didn't) and told a story about watching the September 11 attacks from a limousine with Michael Jackson.

He also revealed that Trump would be his first vote and appeared unaware that the U.S. voting age is 18. "I was too young to vote for Obama," says the 28-year-old pop singer

He was 20 at the time of Obama's 2008 run.

Make America Fun Again

Carter shares his political greenness with Tila Tequila. The reality star has never before felt this passionate about a candidate, but she thinks Trump can "make [politics] fun again."

Asked which policies of Trump's policies she likes, Tequila's answer is a surprise: "Well, he's anti-vax, and I think that's very important." Tequila—apparently referring to some anti-vaccination myths Trump brought into a GOP debate—cites her young daughter Isabella (who hasn't been vaccinated) as evidence against vaccinating kids. "There's kind of proven evidence that she's a lot healthier, stronger, just everything," the 34-year-old mom claims. "She's only been sick twice. I think it's because of no vaccinations."

No matter that Trump hasn't made his anti-vaccination stance a part of his platform, and scientists insist the supposed link between vaccines and autism is completely nonexistent. Tequila, naturally, also admires Trump's pseudoscientific denial of climate change, which the GOP candidate has referred to over the years as a "con job" and a "hoax." She agrees with him "100 percent."

"I feel like the weather here has been really, really nice!" Tequila raves. "I don't see any change, climate change, every year. Me of all people, I'm always looking at the fricking skies and looking at the weather every day. You can go on my page and see all the cloud pictures I take. I'm very, very in sync with the weather. [And] I feel like it's actually gotten better."

This is distinctly Trumpian logic, so it's no surprise Tequila says she feels for the guy. "I've always been hated on," she says. "I feel like I can relate to Donald Trump a lot." Carter spoke similarly, saying he relates to Trump's independence. It's a telling insight: Some celebs don't go for Trump because they expect him to rescue them. They like him because they see a little bit of themselves in him.

Trump vs. Jesus

Several years ago, actor-turned-#TCOT-warrior James Woods remarked that after making his far-right views known online, he didn't expect to work in Hollywood again.

The celebrities who've come out for Trump aren't fearing similar career consequences.

"Don't know and don't care," Ted Nugent replied in a terse email exchange when asked what effect his outspokenness has had on his career or personal life.

Baldwin isn't much more concerned. He left Hollywood for a quiet life on a farm in New York state. "I haven't had as much pushback in my support for Trump as I have in my support for Jesus," says the actor, who became a born-again Christian more than a decade ago and is now preparing to produce his first Christian movie. "I'm more persecuted about Jesus than I am about Trump." But Baldwin is also active on Twitter, where he does bear some abuse for his position. "I've gotten some pretty awkward comments thrown my way because of my Trump support," he admits.

The same has been the case for Baio. "There's losers on Twitter," Baio says. "But I don't care about them." He recently fired up those losers by tweeting a denial of climate change, evidently because he saw snow on mountains. If Trumpism has had any effect on his career, Baio hasn't noticed either, because he's taken the last two years off from work anyway to raise his daughter. "My country is everything to me," says Baio. "So whatever I can do to help save it—you might think I'm crazy in my beliefs, but I'm going to do what I can."

Maybe Carter and Chingy and Tila are motivated by the same honorable, God-fearing strain of patriotism. Maybe not. The older class of Trump endorsers (Baio, Nugent, et al.) tend to be well-known conservatives. They come to Trump with pre-written statements and long-established ideals. They talk about defending God and country, protecting their children's futures, railing against terrorism and political correctness. Trump support from the likes of Carter or Banks feels more perfunctory and impulsive. It's attention-grabbing but yearns for even the vaguest semblance of ideological coherence. It lives and dies on social media and may not even make it to the vote. Carter faced such severe cyberbullying over his Trump support—from being called a white supremacist to receiving death threats—that he no longer wants to vote at all. Which is weird, since the Internet trolls won't exactly know what takes place when Carter enters that voting booth for the first time.

No matter: Trump support is fleeting, but publicity is forever. Carter ended his interview with a flurry of self-promotion, asking us to mention his new single dropping on April Fools' Day. Chingy concluded his remarks on a similar note. "Tell the people to download my new project, The Purge, on," he valiantly declared.

OK, Chingy. You win. Maybe there is a career benefit to endorsing Trump.