Opinion: Political campaigns all seek their stars

photo by: Tribune Content Agency

Clarence Page

President Joe Biden’s team looks to Taylor Swift for a touchdown. Considering the obvious ability that pop star Taylor Swift and her NFL star boyfriend, Travis Kelce, have shown for stealing the limelight, it comes as little surprise that, without even trying, they have generated their own conspiracy theory, too.

Long-standing conspiracy theories about the NFL and the “deep state” and other far reaches of the fever swamps produced a photo on the Twitter account @NFL_Memes that claimed a connection between Super Bowl logo colors and the teams playing in the big game itself. In response, faster than you could say “touchdown,” right-wing conspiracy theorists were claiming Swift’s involvement with Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs is really part of a plot to gin up support for Biden in the 2024 election.

Considering the lackluster state of Biden’s campaign, the president needs all the help he can get. Besides, the success of Swift and her record-breaking Eras Tour have made this such a successful time for the pop star that it is not surprising to see the Biden campaign dream of sharing some of the glory and good fortune.

After all, it didn’t hurt Biden to have Swift’s endorsement in 2020. Last year a single Instagram post from her led to 35,000 new voter registrations. Even if old-timer football personalities disparage the couple’s star appeal as a big distraction, as retired coach Tony Dungy did recently, the entertainment industry known as the NFL has to be delighted with the publicity, merch sales and other revenue that the fun couple has brought to the sport.

Just as John F. Kennedy enlivened the White House with Frank Sinatra and his “Rat Pack” of pals and began a long-running tradition of Hollywood hobnobbing with presidents — mostly Democrats, as it turned out — today’s campaigns seek their own stars and welcome those who come along. As it struggles  to hang onto such core constituencies as young liberals and people of color, at least according to polls, the Biden campaign has begun discussions with celebrities and social media stars about promoting Biden on Instagram and TikTok.

Old-school pols made good use of TV ads. Given today’s sensibilities, Biden’s campaign has enlisted “influencers” with a following on Instagram and TikTok — which I’m going to figure out one of these days.

Biden’s plan, insiders say, leans toward direct assaults on Trump and a big emphasis on abortion rights — an easy issue to contrast with sound bites of Trump boasting about picking Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade. Democratic success at restoring abortion rights in red states that have put the issue to a referendum justifiably encourages the Biden campaign, but it’s likely not enough by itself to defeat Trump.

Biden’s campaign reportedly believes that the more the public sees and hears Trump brag about wanting to be “a dictator on day one,” the more voters will be brought to their side on issues like abortion and health care. Such a reversal won’t come easily. No one seems to thrive as much off of criminal indictments as Trump does.

But it’s still early in the campaign calendar and there’s still hope, according to longtime supporters. One who knows how that works is Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and key Biden ally, who was credited with Biden’s crucial turnaround in 2020. He told The New York Times that Democrats needed to make an affirmative case and remind voters of tangible changes to their lives — like capping insulin costs, infrastructure cash for roads and bridges and other important promises Biden kept.

But those “promises kept” have not mattered enough to younger and more progressive voters who have not given the administration much credit for its accomplishments — or harbor, in many cases, resentment toward Team Biden’s support for Israel’s war against Hamas. Complex issues like that are not easily debated in the midst of a presidential campaign, but campaigns are, after all, a nation’s sometimes ungainly debate over issues determining its future.

Politics often looks like a game, but now it’s time to get serious.

— Clarence Page is a columnist for Tribune Content Agency.


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