As real estate tycoon and TV per­son­ality Donald Trump mulls a run for the U.S. pres­i­dency, Alan Schroeder, asso­ciate pro­fessor of jour­nalism at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity and author of the book “Celebrity-​​in-​​Chief: How Show Busi­ness Took Over the White House,” dis­cusses the rela­tion­ship between celebrity and polit­ical power.

How has Donald Trump man­aged to grab the polit­ical spotlight?

We live in a media cul­ture in which celebrity car­ries a lot of weight, and Trump, an estab­lished celebrity, already has media access in a way that reg­ular politi­cians don’t. Also, the Repub­lican field of nom­i­nees is so ambiguous at this point that there is no clear front-​​runner and we don’t know which of the poten­tial can­di­dates are legitimate.

This vacuum presents Trump with an opening to com­mand the stage. But we don’t know how serious he is. Is this Donald Trump making a pres­i­den­tial
run? Or is he trying to boost the rat­ings of “The Appren­tice,” and his own ego.

How will this affect the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign going forward?

Every story about Donald Trump run­ning for pres­i­dent is a story that someone else who is run­ning isn’t get­ting. The other nom­i­nees are being crowded out at a time when, nor­mally, can­di­dates are making them­selves known to the broader public. Trump is sucking up so much of the oxygen that there’s not enough left for everyone else.

Also, Trump’s cru­sade to chal­lenge whether Pres­i­dent Obama was actu­ally born in Hawaii is forcing that topic—an extreme hard-​​right position—back into the con­ver­sa­tion, at a time when other nom­i­nees would prob­ably prefer to talk about more sub­stan­tive things.

What can be learned from celebri­ties who’ve won elected office in the past?

We’ve seen Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ven­tura become gov­er­nors. Mem­bers of Con­gress have come from the sports world. But I think the pres­i­dent is a sep­a­rate cat­e­gory and voters would be less likely to take the risk.

Also, after Schwarzenegger and Ven­tura were elected, they really didn’t have much suc­cess. They came in with a lot of plans and momentum, but the reality of these jobs is very dif­ferent from being a celebrity. Celebrity may get you there, but being a celebrity doesn’t help you exe­cute the job of gov­erning very well.

Everyone always thinks of Ronald Reagan’s tran­si­tion from acting to the pres­i­dency, but his was a slow tran­si­tion. He was a two-​​term gov­ernor, and he also had been the pres­i­dent of a labor union—the Screen Actors Guild—which was a very polit­ical job. So Reagan had both the celebrity and the prac­tical expe­ri­ence before he reached the White House.