What is Donald Trump?: Forms of 'celebrity' in celebrity politics

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It is widely assumed that Donald Trump is a ‘celebrity politician’, and that he has cashed in his success on the reality show The Apprentice to secure political credibility and attention. In this respect he fits what Matthew Wood et al (2016) have labelled the ‘superstar celebrity politician’. This characterisation is the latest in a number of refinements to the definition and understanding of the celebrity politician. While this is a helpful move, I want to suggest that it might overlook one key dimension of the phenomenon. Definitions of the celebrity politician tend to focus on the source of their ‘celebrity’ – how they became famous, rather than on how they act out their celebrity role. This latter dimension features in media coverage, where journalists and commentators borrow from showbusiness to describe politics, but is less often analysed in the political science literature. It matters because, I want to suggest, celebrity politicians like Trump act as stars, whether of reality television, rock music or film. They do not just resemble stars; they are them. This is evident in how they are represented, how they perform and how their ‘fans’ respond to them. It is also symptomatic of wider changes in the conduct and form of the contemporary, mediatised political realm.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-13
Number of pages11
JournalPolitical Studies Review
Issue number1
Early online date10 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Donald Trump
  • celebrity politics
  • populism
  • mediatisation

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