The news that Stacey Dash has signed on as a contributor to Fox News seems relatively predictable, given the “Clueless” star’s recent string of public pronouncements. It would not be particularly significant, either, except that it is an interesting illustration of a persistent structural problem for conservatives: the celebrity gap between conservatives and liberals, and between the Republican and Democratic parties.
Celebrities are not the be all and end all of politics, but they at least have the power to make headlines. Conservatives get less pop in part because they often recruit or rely on famous people on the down-swing of their cultural influence. When Dash wrote a long explanation of her reasons for voting for Mitt Romney rather than pulling the lever for President Obama a second time in 2012, she was seventeen years removed from her biggest success in “Clueless,” though her career had a modest resurgence in “The Game” and “Single Ladies.”
Ted Nugent, currently a board member of the National Rifle Association, has not released a record that went gold since 1980. Even considering the shrinking standard for sales in the record industry, his most recent album, “Love Grenade,” peaked at 186 on the U.S. charts.
Ben Stein? Bo Derek? Susan Lucci? Stephen and Adam Baldwin? Shannen Doherty? The awkward roster of less-than-incandescent celebrities claimed by conservatives continue.
On a simply strategic level, this is a challenge for conservative candidates and causes. It is hard to cause a splash by rolling out a celebrity endorsement if voters have to remind themselves why the person on stage is famous in the first place. Campaigns with fewer celebrities at hand may have fewer splashy surrogates to deploy at fundraisers. And celebrities on the way down simply have fewer opportunities to talk politics, whether the subject comes up during a press tour, or whether a slew of awards nominations makes it advantageous for stars to take up a cause to burnish the sense that their source material is serious.
Similarly, the higher-profile celebrities who are registered Republicans, or who are interested in conservative causes, often seem to feel that they have more to lose than to gain by public advocacy.
Adam Sandler may be a registered Republican, but with the rare exception like “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” a difficult movie to claim for conservative values, his ouvre is oriented more towards broad comedy than social commentary. Peyton Manning may be willing to speak at a policy summit run by Mitt Romney, but during the 2012 campaign, while Manning was a Romney donor, Romney talked more about his famous supporter’s free agency than Manning seemed to speak about his candidate of choice.
Faced with tending their professional brands or professing their political choices, celebrity Republicans still at the peak of their earning potential often seem to make a choice consistent with their fiscal values — protecting their abilities to continue fattening their wallets. And with a much smaller pool of high-profile celebrities willing to go on record or RNC stages, the misfires cannot always be corrected or obscured. The Republican Party did not exactly have a strong alternative lined up after Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance art at the 2012 convention.
None of which is to say that celebrities in Dash’s position cannot do just fine by retreating to the smaller sphere of conservative media. This partnership makes a great deal of sense for both signatories to it. Dash gets a regular gig. And I have an idea of exactly where Fox News might be able to start using Dash in its rotation. But the deal has a faint air of compromise to it.