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The charismatic appeal of a celebrity-in-chief

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(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Former President Donald Trump points to supporters after speaking at a Turning Point Action gathering, Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Phoenix.

Reality TV personality and former U.S. president Donald Trump seems poised to make another run at the Oval Office in 2024. Another celebrity, talk-radio host Howard Stern, has floated the idea of running as well (and says he is certain he could best Trump at the polls). Showmanship aside, Trump and Stern follow in a long tradition of celebrities attempting to transfer their clout into political victories. Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood actor before he was elected president, and he was the 33rd governor of California before that. The actor and bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger followed the script, serving as the 38th governor of California for eight years—though the Austrian-born Terminator can’t run for president.

Dig a little deeper into the U.S. political system, and you’ll turn up the late John Glenn, an astronaut who served 25 years as a U.S. senator after his aerospace retirement, and Al Franken, a comedian and Saturday Night Live performer who was also elected to the Senate. Not all celebrities who run for office win it, of course—actor Cynthia Nixon’s 2018 challenge against former New York governor Andrew Cuomo was unsuccessful, for example—but they attract a lot of attention nonetheless. What’s the appeal?

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