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Opinion | The ‘Trump-Oprah’ Voter


I believe that nearly a decade since his first campaign, Mr. Trump retains the sort of shield that only celebrity can provide. It is too easy to forget that before Trump the politician came Trump the businessman, the entertainer, the tabloid fixture. After all, though he is now a former president and current front-runner to retake the White House, it was really not that long ago that Mr. Trump was seen as an American success story, a businessman with the track record and charisma to rise to become a celebrity, appearing in movies like “Home Alone 2,” the hit television series “The Apprentice” and Macy’s ads along with the likes of Taylor Swift and Martha Stewart.

The allure of success is powerful. In our own lives, success can take many forms — financial gain, professional accolades, a happy family. But for many, especially younger Americans today, fame and influence are an aspiration or an indicator of success. There’s a reason brands seek out celebrity spokespeople to endorse products; we perhaps unconsciously assume that because someone is famous, the person must be worth listening to.

Ms. Winfrey, Ms. Swift, Ms. Stewart and, yes, even Mr. Trump have long cultivated a type of aspirational celebrity that confers a number of benefits that traditional politicians do not enjoy. Considered by many to be wealthy, successful, influential and entertaining, their success in one arena confers a halo effect that makes people assume they must be talented in all arenas.

Many of these celebrities have had their own trials (in some cases, literal trials) and triumphs play out in extremely public fashion, cultivating a base of fans that are invested in their success at a personal level. As people develop parasocial relationships with major celebrities, believing themselves to feel they in some way personally know the very famous person they see on their screen, the emotional connection between celebrity and the public is fundamentally different from that of politician and voter.

In the wake of Mr. Trump’s initial triumph in the 2016 Republican primaries and subsequent winning of the White House, there was plenty of discussion about the role his celebrity played in insulating him from criticism from his rivals. Attempts to portray him as bad at business often failed to stick because they ran so counter to his TVcultivated brand as mogul extraordinaire. Even worse, attempts to portray him as an abrasive bully backfired because they reinforced the brand he’d already created.



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