Talk about bad timing. The Los Angeles Times noted last week that Robert Iger, the longtime chief executive of the Disney Corporation, will retire in two years and might be looking for a career in politics afterward. This morning, CBS News asks whether Iger’s planning a run at the presidency:
Disney CEO Bob Iger would not confirm or deny rumors yet again about a potential presidential run in 2020. He is set to step down from the company in 2019.
According to the LA Times, during a discussion at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit in Los Angeles last week, a Vanity Fair reporter inquired of the audience if they would support an Iger run for office, leading to a round of applause.
“That sounds tepid — so maybe that’s a sign,” Iger responded. “And my wife is out there somewhere and I can guarantee that she’s not cheering,” he added. “I will figure it out when I have to figure it out.”
The date on the LA Times report is October 3, published at 6 pm. Less than two days later, the New York Times dropped its bombshell on fellow Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein. October 9th might be a wee bit too early afterward to start flogging Hollywood moguls as presidential timber, regardless of who’s getting the flattering attention.
It’s not the first time the subject has come up for Iger, though. It first came up in June of last year, when Iger himself addressed the rumors in relation to a run for California governor or US Senator in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. By March of this year, with Hillary Clinton having failed spectacularly to win the presidency, the talk had shifted to a White House run:
Iger told THR in June that “a lot of people — a lot — have urged me to seek political office” but denied he would consider a run for California governor or senator, positions that historically have served as stepping stones to the White House. However, Iger didn’t specifically address the prospect of a White House run at the time.
Sources add that he has since consulted with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg about making the leap from the board room to high office (Bloomberg served as mayor of the nation’s largest city from 2002-12 despite no prior public service).
Iger has plenty of friends in high places within the Democratic party. Former Vice President Al Gore told THR in January that he counts fellow Apple board member Iger among his closest Hollywood friends. A number of politically plugged-in industryites say they would welcome an Iger-led Democratic ticket. Others point out that President Trump, though wildly unpopular in Hollywood, has paved the way for a businessman who has never held public office to become the leader of the free world.
Axios’ Mike Allen reported in May that Iger’s peers in the entertainment industry have been pushing Iger to consider a presidential run, led by former Disney chair and Dreamworks exec Jeffrey Katzenberg, and that Democratic leaders and fundraisers have brought it up a number of times. The attention appeared to be working, Allen reported, and cited the same rationale:
- Why he might do it: Trump’s triumph has resulted in lots of businesspeople, from Oprah to Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, being mentioned as possible candidates. Trump’s win showed you don’t need experience in government or a military record. So suddenly, lots of CEOs think they should be hired. Iger led an iconic company on a huge growth spurt and has long toyed with the idea of running.
- Why he might not do it: Iger is committed to his Disney job through July 2019, which wouldn’t leave lots of time to get a campaign going.
That’s no longer the case, as Iger has now committed to an exit in June 2019. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for a presidential campaign, especially for a 69-year-old novice coming from the boardroom to the hustings, but that’s the same situation Donald Trump faced in 2015, too. It may be a tight schedule, but Trump showed that it’s doable, at least.
Let’s do pros and cons. Pros: Iger can argue that his business experience as a CEO of a publicly traded conglomerate is much more applicable to the complicated running of the executive branch. He’s much more likely to be able to make a competence argument, if Trump’s presidency has not resulted in any advancement of legislative agendas, and especially if Trump and the GOP leave the individual health-insurance market in ruins rather than passing a market-based reform. Another pro: An Iger campaign will generate lots and lots of Hollywood money and star appeal, both for himself and for Democrats.
Cons: Hollywood appeal in politics may never recover from the Weinstein scandal, especially if and when the extent of celebrity interventions to protect Weinstein emerge. Matt Damon, a politically active celebrity, has already been accused of enabling Weinstein through pressure on media outlets. Lots of people will remember that Weinstein and the whole industry went almost all-in for Hillary Clinton while talking about justice for women out of one side of their mouths while the other side remained silent about Weinstein. And Democrats can bet that Republicans will spend most of 2020 reminding voters about that as Democrats draft celebrities to campaign for whoever gets the nomination.
More cons: Iger doesn’t have the same charismatic political personality that Trump employed so effectively in 2016. It’s tough to see him at the head of populist political movement, and Democrats already have establishment personalities in place with more compelling narratives. Iger’s already mired in the NFL controversy and the politicization of ESPN, first excusing Jemele Hill in her attack on Trump and now suspending her for two weeks for targeting ESPN’s advertisers. Iger’s leadership has managed to antagonize both conservatives and progressives on this issue, which, er … does not bode well for a general election, let alone a primary.
Finally, Iger will have the same problem Oprah Winfrey would face in 2020. Trump’s the test case for celebrity novelty candidates. If he fails, so does the model, and people will look for more traditional political candidates. If Trump succeeds, then he wins re-election, assuming he chooses to run for a second term. Winfrey’s personality and charm might be enough to overcome that, but only because Winfrey spent several decades of her life personally building emotional ties to the heartland of America. Iger simply isn’t well enough known outside of the rarified Hollywood circles to which he belongs. Unfortunately for Iger, Weinstein was a much more public and storied character — and his shadow will likely loom large over Hollywood political activism for years to come, whether or not that’s fair to Iger.
If Democrats were smart, they’d avoid looking to Hollywood for their future, or at least for their “outsider” bench. A better place to start would be the Pentagon, and any generals or admirals who might retire in protest during the Trump administration. Their progressive base would likely revolt, but that’s going to have to happen if they want to expand their appeal.