Think of it as Hollywood’s incarnation of the national #NeverTrump movement.
A secretive alliance of some of Hollywood’s top Republicans is putting together a game plan to try to stop Donald Trump. And its strategy hinges on doing everything it can to help Ted Cruz pull off a major upset in the California primary this summer.
Hollywood conservatives—the film industry’s right-leaning, politically active executives, screenwriters, actors, directors, activists, and rain-making fundraisers—recently arrived at a wild conclusion: Their state’s June 7 GOP primary might actually matter in this election. One hundred seventy-two delegates, the most of any state, are up for grabs in the California contest, and frontrunners Trump and Cruz are in a tough fight for delegates as a contested convention looms.
Behind the scenes, a pro-Cruz contingent of Hollywood’s Republican elite is actively lobbying like-minded colleagues, pushing the case for the Texas senator and plotting out how best to help him as June approaches.
“It dawned on us very recently that California is gonna count this year,” writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd told The Daily Beast. “Usually, by the time you get to us, [the nominee has] been decided. But in this election, we thought, ‘It may be real here, so what can we do?’”
He might not be a household name, but if you’re a conservative looking to make it in the Democratic stronghold of liberal Hollywood, you know exactly who Chetwynd is. The 76-year-old Oscar-nominated filmmaker, once dubbed “the dean of Hollywood conservatives,” co-chaired the Arts and Entertainment Committee for the first Reagan/Bush campaign and served on President George W. Bush’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Chetwynd is also a founding member of Friends of Abe (FOA), the secretive, exclusive fellowship organization for more than 2,000 Hollywood right-wingers, both famous and not. (FOA has been described as a “stealth right-wing group” that is “influential in conservative circles” and which operates under “the same PR rules as Fight Club.”)
He has also been a hardcore Cruz fan for years.
“Cruz is an extremely educated man who understands the arc of history,” Chetwynd said. “He’s his own best advocate. To meet him is to love him. And I think Cruz can count on Hollywood’s right of center for really extensive support.”
Hollywood’s right of center is a small clique, especially when stacked against the vast, high-profile armada of Hollywood liberals, many of whom are much sought-after bundlers and endorsers for leading Democratic candidates. But within the small conservative community, there is indeed strong support for a Cruz presidency. According to multiple sources in FOA, membership tends to “lean more for Cruz” than Trump, with fellow 2016 contender John Kasich earning near-invisible support.
But the pro-Cruz faction of show-business Republicans in California—both inside and outside FOA—isn’t getting complacent. The Cruz fans aren’t blind to the sizable lead Trump enjoys in their state’s recent polling, and they’ve noticed that pro-Trump sentiment in Hollywood’s conservative circle has grown.
Actor Jon Voight, one of the most famous members of FOA, formally endorsed the real estate mogul last month. Columnist Ann Coulter, one of Trump’s most devoted surrogates, has been actively making the case for Trump at dinners and social events in Hollywood. Among her targets: Clint Eastwood—an anti-war, libertarian Republican and top FOA member who famously endorsed Mitt Romney—and several other players in the film industry.
But the pro-Cruz side may have a more robust lobbying operation in the works in Los Angeles, with several dozen Hollywood Republicans and Friends of Abe—including Chetwynd himself—gearing up for an aggressive, multi-pronged push in support of Trump’s main rival.
According to multiple activists in Hollywood familiar with these discussions, Cruz supporters in FOA are lobbying colleagues and fellow conservative actors to “try to get people to move away from Trump,” according to one industry source, and see the light of the Cruz campaign.
Whether it’s at dinner parties, private events, fundraisers, cocktail hours, or one-on-one lunches, these committed Cruz fans are regularly pressing the flesh to drum up wider entertainment-industry support for the senator. They have a “to-do” list of celebrities they wish to soon convert to public Cruz endorsers, including Wheel of Fortune’s Pat Sajak, Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, Patricia Heaton, David Mamet, Gary Sinise, and Kelsey Grammer.
“We are working on all these people, as well as others,” an FOA member said. “They are [conservative] Hollywood’s most coveted endorsers, and they are being courted from all sides, I can tell you that.”
Ideally, the Texas senator’s supporters would like to recruit enough high-profile actors and talent to justify a big coming out for Cruz, concert-style event that would end with Cruz himself taking the stage in California before the primary. During the 2008 presidential election, a few FOA members had drafted preliminary plans to mount a show like this for then-Republican candidate John McCain but failed to enlist enough A-listers to stage an impressive, attention-grabbing function. (Eastwood was one of the few who would commit.)
This network of Hollywood Cruz fans is also exploring its options for cutting commercials, filming PSAs, and marshaling fundraising efforts for the campaign or pro-Cruz super PACs. However, at this stage in the process, the supporters are primarily focused on getting as many film industry conservatives and influence-peddlers to pledge loyalty to Team Cruz.
“It’s about how to best leverage our talents” to aid the Cruz campaign, said one actor active in these secretive recruiting efforts.
This month, a handful of envoys from Hollywood’s quiet pro-Cruz movement attended a small gathering—roughly 100 attendees—at the Beverly Hilton at the cross street of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. The event included veterans of the state’s Republican establishment, including former California governor Pete Wilson, and representatives from Team Cruz. Elliott Broidy, a Los Angeles venture capitalist and GOP fundraiser who was alternately described as a “rainmaker” and “one of the wise men” by the FOA members in attendance, also made an appearance and brought along some acquaintances.
Actor Steven Bauer, a star of Scarface and the TV series Ray Donovan who is currently supporting Trump, was also spotted. The other Hollywood conservatives there—mostly screenwriters who were “obviously against Trump,” according to one attendee—had come to the Beverly Hilton to show their loyalty to Team Cruz.
It was yet another indication that Cruz’s ongoing outreach to Hollywood has—quietly—worked. He attempted to tap the well of Hollywood support early in his Senate career and was one of the earliest 2016 candidates to try to charm Hollywood conservatives onto his side.
After Cruz appeared on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show in November 2013, he headed to a scheduled meeting with a dozen writers and producers at a restaurant in Burbank. Cruz would later officially address the Friends of Abe, including in early 2014, when he swung through Los Angeles to discuss what he called the Obama administration’s “McCarthyite” actions against FOA. He has since attended multiple salon-style events with FOA members and allies.
Though the group is focused on creating “fellowship” among Hollywood Republicans and conservatives, its exclusive gatherings—which includes dinners headlined by 2016 presidential contenders—have also emerged as opportunities for GOP candidates to explore potential support and future fundraising opportunities.
And Team Cruz has clearly taken notice.
“Sen. Cruz came and talked to us, and he did so rather early,” Jeremy Boreing, FOA’s executive director, told The Daily Beast. “Ted Cruz actually took the time to solicit insights and creative support from [the Hollywood conservative community]. It was about focusing on relationships, not recruiting surrogates, but just building a base of relationship.”
Whether Cruz buffs in Hollywood can actually help him pull off an upset victory in the Golden State is, at best, an open question. But thanks to his years of outreach, Cruz has built a foundation of political support among Tinseltown’s close-knit tribe of right-leaning voters and donors. And for a candidate who is so fond of dropping film references on the campaign trail, that in itself is progress.
“[Cruz] understands that there can be benefit to having relationships with us,” Boreing said. “A lot of our industry is about communicating and storytelling, and the left has long realized [this].”