The Hollywood power players turning on the Biden campaign: 'It's about the ability to WIN'

Hollywood knows a flop when it sees one.

So it’s hardly surprising that some of the industry’s biggest luminaries are engaged in a collective act of hand-wringing over President Biden’s weak performance during last week’s presidential debate against former President Trump.

Hollywood backers, including those who previously wrote large checks, are feeling skittish about Biden’s prospects, with some growing increasingly vocal in their calls to remove him from the top of the ticket.

The public drumbeat from the reliably liberal entertainment industry began to crescendo with a column published Wednesday in Deadline from “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof, who said he would withhold future donations until Biden stepped aside as the Democratic presidential candidate.

In a Friday email to The Times, Lindelof said Biden’s debate performance — which was supposed to assuage concerns about Biden’s age, but did the opposite — changed his mind about the president’s candidacy. Though he has “immense respect” for Biden, he said, the risks posed by the president remaining in the race were too high. Lindelof said he donated $125,000 this cycle to the Biden campaign and nearly as much to Democratic Party Senate and congressional candidates.

“For me, this isn’t about the ability to govern, it’s about the ability to WIN,” he wrote.

Many Democrats fear Biden’s liabilities put the party at risk of losing not just the White House but downballot races in a way that will do long-term damage to their causes.

Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings, too, has called for Biden to “step aside to allow a vigorous Democratic leader to beat Trump and keep us safe and prosperous,” according to the New York Times. Hastings and his wife have contributed more than $20 million in donations to the Democratic Party over the last few years, the newspaper reported. Hastings declined further comment.

Other prominent Hollywood players have voiced concerns about Biden’s continued presence in the campaign, including Endeavor Chief Executive Ari Emanuel and media titan Barry Diller, who replied bluntly when asked by the Ankler if he would continue to support the Biden campaign: “No.” Filmmaker and Disney heir Abigail Disney said she would withhold donations until Biden was replaced at the top of the Democratic Party’s ticket.

Biden has said he will remain in the race, despite the mounting pressure. On Friday, speaking in front of supporters at a Wisconsin middle school, Biden acknowledged his subpar debate but vowed to keep fighting.

“I beat Donald Trump,” Biden said. “I will beat him again.”

Hollywood has long been a major funding source for the Democratic Party, with industry power players often hosting major fundraisers and publicly throwing their support behind candidates. That’s why the industry’s current anxiety looms large over the Biden campaign.

“The sense of things right now is that all this lives in the hands of Joe Biden and the people closest to the Biden family, as well as a handful of close advisors,” said Steve Caplan, adjunct instructor of public relations and advertising at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, who is currently teaching a course on political advertising and the 2024 election. “I think that’s certainly true, but without money — mega-donor money, including Hollywood money — there is no campaign.”

It wasn’t long ago that some of Hollywood’s elite were at a star-studded fundraiser for Biden at the Peacock Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Organized by industry titan and former DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, the soiree boasted the likes of late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel, along with actors George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

The event raised more than $30 million, according to the Biden campaign.

Katzenberg is one of Biden’s seven campaign co-chairs and has raised millions for his race. After he repeatedly dismissed Democrats’ concerns that Biden was too old to run — going so far as to call Biden’s age his “superpower” — some Hollywood donors are now frustrated. Since the June 27 debate, Katzenberg has been uncharacteristically silent.

Katzenberg, who created the short-lived streaming service Quibi, declined to comment for this story, referring questions to the Biden campaign.

Deciding whether Biden can stay in the presidential race will come down to three factors — Democratic Party leadership, the president’s polling performance and sentiment among big donors, said Jessica Levinson, who teaches election law at Loyola Law School.

“If your key donors jump ship, that’s not just a pocketbook hit, but it’s a big signal to other people as well,” she said.

Already, talk has started to turn toward who could replace Biden.

State and local politicians and activists are considering, “albeit with pain and reluctance,” the viability of a ticket led by Vice President Kamala Harris, said Donna Bojarsky, a longtime Democratic political consultant who runs a nonprofit dedicated to building civic engagement in L.A.

“There’s brewing potential excitement about Kamala,” she said. “The possibility of a next-generation team looking forward to the future could be very compelling.”

Hollywood insiders have said a fresh face could ignite more enthusiasm, such as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, California Gov. Gavin Newsom or Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.

But not everyone in Hollywood is hitting the panic button.

“Everyone just needs to take a breath,” Democratic Party fundraiser and Hollywood advisor Andy Spahn said in an email Friday to The Times. “This will sort itself out soon enough.”

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