Last year, my colleague Spencer Kornhaber wrote that the then-budding romance between the singer Grimes and the tech billionaire Elon Musk was the exception that proved a weird new rule: Bipartisan romances are a thing of the past now. The public’s strong reaction to the pairing between the self-described “anti-imperialist” musician and Musk, who was briefly on two Trump White House advisory committees, showed, Kornhaber wrote, that “the celebrity realm is, as with all shifting norms, a place where the increasingly urgent questions around guilt by association are being tested, crudely.”
Last week, the comedian Ellen DeGeneres (who is married to another woman and has been outspoken on LGBTQ issues for decades) fatefully went to a football game with George W. Bush (who pushed for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage during his presidency). In so doing, she sparked a controversy that raised a similar question about the fate of mixed-ideology friendships in the era of Trump—which have also become less common in recent years. And last night, 12 presidential candidates grappled with that question on the Democratic debate stage.
“Last week, Ellen DeGeneres was criticized after she and former president George W. Bush were seen laughing together at a football game. Ellen defended their friendship, saying, ‘We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s okay,’” the moderator Anderson Cooper told candidates as the debate wound down. Which launched him into the final question: “So in that spirit, we’d like you to tell us about a friendship that you’ve had that would surprise us and what impact it’s had on you and your beliefs.”