Trump is of course the obvious analogue: a celebrity entertainer with a reputation for behavior that ranges from louche to boorish and a long backlog of potentially damaging comments in his past. (As Ben Jacobs points out, Rock would be the first, and likely only, senator to have appeared in a sex tape with Creed’s Scott Stapp.) But while Trump demonstrated that under the right circumstances this baggage needn’t be fatal, Rock is arguably much better positioned than Trump for a successful political run.
For one thing, he has much deeper roots in the Republican Party than Trump did, and the goodwill that comes from helping fellow party members. Rock endorsed Mitt Romney, a fellow native of the Detroit area, in 2012, played rallies for him, and gave Romney his campaign theme song, “Born Free.” Romney credited Rock with helping him over the top in a hard-fought GOP primary against Rick Santorum, Kelefa Sanneh wrote in a 2012 New Yorker profile. Four years later, Rock was an early passenger on the Trump Train, getting aboard in February 2016.
Parties like to recruit celebrity candidates because they bring to the table broad name recognition, access to wealthy donors, and often the ability to self-fund a campaign, at least in part. Rock has all three. He has the fame that can only come from a hit song in which he shouts his own name; he is godfather to the child of Peter Karmanos, who owns the Carolina Hurricanes; and his own fortune has been estimated at $80 million. Other famous Michiganders, like Eminem and Bob Seger, are friends and could stump for him.
Rock isn’t the only potential celebrity candidate in the race; he’s not even the only potential long-haired, washed-up, libertine rock star, since Ted Nugent is also rumored to be interested in the race. But that might not be so bad for Rock, because being the less-crazy celebrity in a campaign can provide a leg up. Just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became governor of California in 2003 after defeating a field of candidates that included a pre-HuffPost Arianna Huffington, porn star Mary Carey, and porn magnate Larry Flynt.
What might a Rock platform look like? He’d be well-positioned to chart a populist, Rust Belt course, characterized by fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. Given his own colorful reputation, Rock would hardly have had the option anyway of running as a moral crusader, but he also told Sanneh, “I don’t give a fuck if gay people get married,” even as he expressed concern about the size of social-welfare programs.
Rock is both a businessman in his own right—he owns a clothing company called “Made in Detroit”—and the son of a car-dealership owner. He loves Detroit, giving him classic blue-collar cred in spite of a fairly privileged upbringing, and could easily feel at home in both wealthy and earthy settings, a necessary ability for a good politician. He’s a military booster. Michigan is one of many states grappling with the opioid crisis; Rock has previously offered a message of inclusion for users, shouting out “all my heroes at the methadone clinics” in “Bawitdaba.”