There is debate as to whether or not basketball great Michael Jordan actually said “Republicans buy sneakers too” in response to criticism about his famously apolitical existence. Apocryphal story or not, he did set the standard for Nike superstars to come like Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on silence when it came to political and social matters. What was significant about the new standard that Jordan established is that just one generation before, superstars from Jackie Robinson, to Bill Russell, and most famously Muhammad Ali were front and center with some of the social and political issues of their day. With Ali willing to sacrifice his career and possibly his freedom for his stand.
The sponsorship opportunities have come a long way since Jackie Robinson was promoting Chock Full o’ Nuts with billions of dollars at stake for these celebrities and their associated companies. So in one of the most divisive political campaigns on record, I’ve found it fascinating to see which celebrities, business leaders, politicians and every day Joes have taken a public stand, and whether they’re potentially risking something by mixing business and politics.
Just yesterday, the second coming of MJ, LeBron James of the World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers was stumping for Hillary Clinton in Ohio:
— CNN (@CNN) November 6, 2016
That takes some political courage, with about half of Ohio currently polling as pro Trump.
Musicians have long been politically active, but not necessarily pop-stars, who have much more to risk audience wise than some indie act. Lady Gaga wass getting all up in Melania and Donald’s grill yesterday on Twitter, while Jay Z and Bey headlined a concert Saturday for Clinton also in Ohio, and The Boss will be doing the same in Pennsylvania tonight:
Bruce Springsteen to perform at Hillary Clinton rally in Philadelphia https://t.co/7IJIhjbQbt
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) November 6, 2016
I for one have no issues with this. I came from a politically curious (and incorrect at times) family when it came to debating issues like this around the dinner table. These celebrities are putting their conscience before their wallets and that should be applauded even if you disagree.
Clinton isn’t the only candidate with in the race trotting out celebrity endorsements. Trump campaigned with 1977 hit Cat Scratch Fever singer Ted Nugent yesterday in Michigan. Scott Baio (Chachi from Happy Days and Charles from Charles in Charge) spoke at the Republican Convention in July (as did General Hospital‘s Antonio Sabàto Jr.) and one of the Baldwin brothers is also in the mix.
But let’s be honest, it’s not celebrities but political, religious and business/labor leaders that likely have the most sway with their followers. Here where it gets interesting. There are no living Presidents, Republican or Democratic that have supported Trump. There have been very few economic or military advisers of recent Presidents who have endorsed him either. While many within the party will vote for him, they do so out of survival instincts, while stopping short of endorsing him or in some cases of saying his name. His support from the religious right, traditional foot soldiers in Republican GOTV efforts has been sparse.
Which brings me back to business interests. I can’t list one person who has done business with Trump (other than a couple Celebrity Apprentice contestants) willing to endorse him as the brilliant business leader and mega-billionaire he’s basing much of his campaign on.
On the bigger picture, I do agree with Trump that special interests have way too much influence in DC, with lobbying out of hand. And perhaps there’s some reason that so few big business leaders/execs have come out publicly to take a stand as they need to hedge in case the election goes either way. Those who run banks, industrial, pharma, consumer staples, retail companies have largely played the silent game during an election that may affect the lives of millions of their employees. These are the same c-level execs who will blame poor Q4 results and Q1 guidance on the uncertainty around the election, but won’t take a stand for what they believe is the right path for our country.
There is one group of business leaders that have stood out from the pack in a massive way, Technology, specifically those in Silicon Valley (and Alley in NYC). Back in July, 145 technology leaders, stated in a defiant open letter, denouncing Trump’s candidacy:
We are inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers, investors, researchers, and business leaders working in the technology sector. We are proud that American innovation is the envy of the world, a source of widely-shared prosperity, and a hallmark of our global leadership.
We believe in an inclusive country that fosters opportunity, creativity and a level playing field. Donald Trump does not.
Mark Cuban, Web 1.0 luminary, star of Shark Tank and owner of the Dallas Mavericks and early Twitter and Uber investor Chris Sacca who runs LowerCase Capital have been massive Clinton backers, especially since Trump won the nomination last Spring. Meg Whitman, former Republican nominee for Governor of California in 2010, and CEO of Hewlett Packard has been a prominent Clinton surrogate, with very public backing from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg and considerable financial giving from rank and file employees of the top tech outfits.
Trump can claim one famous Silicon Valley supporter in Paypal co-founder and VC Peter Thiel.
But other endorsements from venture capitalists have received less publicity. Upfront’s Mark Suster‘s risked some Sand Hill Road cocktail party invites with his surgical take-down of Peter Thiel’s support for Trump… And Then They Came for Me … and Fred Wilson‘s Union Square Ventures, made their first ever political endorsement last month. There are many more, including Nerdz4Hillary, Hunter Walk, Brad Feld.
I would be remiss not to mention what I think has been a tour de force by Kara Swisher, Recode’s executive editor (who reports on all of these tech peeps), who has used her massive readership, Twitter & Recode Decode Podcast following to be an ardent opponent to Trump’s candidacy.
Critics could argue that these tech peeps are merely acting in their own self interest, but remember, they don’t know who is going to win. And Trump has has shown a penchant for revenge for those that oppose him:
These leaders in tech and elsewhere are putting their financial interests behind what they think is right for our country and I think they should be celebrated for that. Democracy is much more interesting with opinions out in the open.
I’m with them!