As Donald Trump was about to step on stage on Sunday for another rally to tout the endorsement of another former rival, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley was about 30 miles south in New Hampshire, at a rally at Exeter High School, where a celebrity figure and daytime fixture was lending her support: Judge Judy.
On stage to a room full of enthusiastic supporters, Haley called Judy Sheindlin, whose daily courtroom show made her one of the most famous women on TV, a “trailblazer” who is “tough” and “speaks hard truths” and “doesn’t mince words.”
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“I will tell you for all of those endorsements you talk about, those are the endorsements that matter, the ones where they’re going to tell you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it, and they are going to tell you why, and it’s a combination of brains and heart,” Haley said.
Introducing Haley, Sheindlin said, “I’m not here necessarily to bash the competition, although I am perfectly capable of doing that.” The line got a big laugh.
As many in the GOP line up behind Trump, the Haley campaign is highlighting Sheindlin’s backing in the final days of the primary, as the former UN ambassador and the judge sat for multiple joint interviews with local and national outlets before the rally.
Sheindlin may have a bit of an advantage of being relatively new to the role of celebrity political endorser – still unique enough to draw attention and not be quickly dismissed as hyper partisan.
She backed Michael Bloomberg in his bid for the Democratic nomination in 2020, writing in a USA Today op ed that she had stayed away from politics for 50 years, except to vote, but “times have changed in our country, and I believe the moment has come for me to step out from behind the curtain.”
In an interview just before the rally, Sheindlin told Deadline, “I saw the country going in a bad direction. I think most knowing people saw the country going in a bad direction. And if you have kids and you want your kids to have as good of a country as I grew up in, when you had presidential elections, you had your favorite but there weren’t really, there wasn’t anybody who was a horrendous candidate. You could live with either one. But then, something happened in American politics. I don’t know what it was. People started to be hostile towards each other — families, people in my family who wouldn’t speak to you if you were a Trump supporter, Biden supporter, if you supported Obama. It denigrates, and so I felt as if I had to get involved.”
Sheindlin, whose third season of Judy Justice premieres today on Amazon Freevee, acknowledged the polarizing reactions that celebrity endorsements can generate.
Endorsements also have an unclear and debatable impact. One of the most famous of all celebrity endorsements came 15 years ago, when another daytime star, Oprah Winfrey, endorsed Barack Obama, and one study concluded that her imprimatur was responsible for about 1 million votes for the then-Illinois senator.
Since then, politics has obviously changed: Breaking through media clutter is much more of a challenge, and, absent substantial research, it’s difficult to discern what endorsement made a difference and what did not. Four years ago, Yellowstone star Kevin Coster helped draw a crowd to the same high school, Exeter, when he endorsed Pete Buttigieg. As it turned out, Buttigieg’s campaign was entering its final weeks.
“There are those who say, ‘Who cares what a celebrity thinks about anything?’ Well, I’m just a person who has some people who adore me, and some people who don’t adore me, and some people who loathe me,” Sheindlin said. “But I have an opinion, and just because I have celebrity doesn’t mean that I should keep my opinion to myself. I’m here because [Haley] invited me to be here, and because I believe in her. Do I think that an endorsement by a politician by Chris Christie, by Ron DeSantis, by Tim Scott — do I think that they’re smarter than I am? Absolutely not. Do I think that they’re smarter than anybody in this building? They have opinions. But those are guys that have a platform. Well, I have a platform. So I use it.”
Sheindlin said that she did not know Haley but, impressed by her candidacy, reached out to her last year. They met about eight months ago. “We spent a whole afternoon together, just the two of us. I wanted to get to know her. I wanted to see if she was the real deal. She’s the real deal.”
Sheindlin shares Haley’s frequent warnings about a potential Trump vs. Biden rematch. Asked what happens if the race ends up that way — which much of the pundit class believes it will — Sheindlin squeezed her nose with her fingers and said, “I’m gonna have the same nose clip as a lot of other people in this country.” She did not say who she would vote for, though.
“I can’t tell you how many people that I’ve spoken to that said, and this is an honest statement, ‘I don’t think I’m going to vote. I can’t vote if that’s my choice. I’m not going to vote.’ And I sort of understand that. I don’t know who that will benefit. I actually think that whoever has the most rabid fan base will win if enough people decide, ‘I’m just not gonna vote.'”
One attendee at the event, Emma Kaply, 25, held a sign with a friend that read: “Screw the politics. We’re here for Judge Judy.” The endorsement “got my attention, because I grew up with her and respect this woman. She’s an idol, right? So for her to be here and speak for her is a really big deal.” She said that voted for Biden but was disappointed and, like others at the rally, had concerns over his age. “The person who is supposed to be the head of our country, our leader, the strongest person, and we’re laughing at him and we’re making jokes and memes and have videos.”
Right now, Trump’s rallies show just that type of fan base, despite his legal troubles and despite the fact that he’s spend much of his campaign making statements in between court hearings. Sheindlin isn’t a fan of the former president’s legal team.
“Trump has used the situation that he finds himself in as a civil defendant in multiple jurisdictions,” she said. “He could either put his tail between his legs, get under his blanket, let his lawyers do his bidding. But he’s decided that he’s going to energize his base by making himself a victim… [His lawyers] gave him the ammunition to do that because if you have one or two legitimate grievances that have substance that’s fine, but when you use your power in the justice system to get your own 15 minutes of fame … Donald uses that to create more people who are sympathetic towards him, because they feel as if he’s being victimized. So whatever he’s doing, it’s working for him.”
At the rally, Sheindlin did not dwell on criticism of Trump or Biden, but used the phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” “We’ve already seen what these two presidencies look like,” she said.
“If I know a few things — I don’t know math, I don’t know calculus. I couldn’t be a doctor because I cheated on my chemistry final. But I tell you this. I do know people, and this woman is the real deal.”
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