Speculation Surrounds Taylor Swift’s Presidential Pick for 2024

Speculation Surrounds Taylor Swift’s Presidential Pick for 2024

Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates with Taylor Swift after a 17-10 victory against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore.

Taylor Swift has been one of the most dominant cultural figures of the past year, between her billion-dollar Eras Tour and accompanying film, a slew of Grammy nominations, and a high-profile romance with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce that’s made her a fixture of the National Football League season.

But Swift’s popularity is being twisted into a threat by a contingent of far-right, Donald Trump-supporting conservatives who have started circulating conspiracy theories about the singer, the Super Bowl, and the 2024 election. During the Chiefs’ conference championship game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Mike Crispi, a pro-Trump podcast host on the right-wing Salem Media Group, posted a rant claiming the NFL had “RIGGED” a Chiefs victory.

“All to spread DEMOCRAT PROPAGANDA. Calling it now: KC wins, goes to Super Bowl, Swift comes out at the halftime show and ‘endorses’ Joe Biden with Kelce at midfield. It’s all been an op since day one,” Crispi wrote on X. (This will be the Chiefs’ fourth Super Bowl appearance in the past five years.)

When the Chiefs pulled off a win, speculation went wild, casting Swift’s relationship with Kelce as a plot to tip the presidential contest in Biden’s favor. “I wonder who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month. And I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall,” former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who has pushed debunked conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6th insurrection, the 2020 election, and 9/11, wrote on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, on Monday.

Unfounded claims about Swift’s alleged role as a government plant have been swirling for some time. Last month, Fox News host Jesse Watters speculated that Swift might be a Pentagon “psyop” — an asset used for psychological operations. “Is Swift a front for a covert political agenda?” he asked. While noting that he had no evidence, he pointed to Swift’s endorsement of Biden in 2020 and her recent encouragement that fans register to vote, which led to a surge in registrations. The Pentagon rejected Watters’ claim.

But the collision of the Super Bowl and a contentious presidential race have propelled the right-wing backlash to new heights. A New York Times report this week that Biden’s campaign is hoping Swift will endorse him again this year added further fuel to the fire.

Influential right-wing figures including Jack Posobiec, who pushed the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and radio host Charlie Kirk have weighed in. Conservative cable outlets have dedicated multiple segments to Swift, with Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro urging her, “Don’t get involved in politics. We don’t wanna see you there.”

The strategy of attacking a pop icon, as well as a cultural institution like the NFL, might seem counterproductive, given that both Swift and football are very popular across the political spectrum. However, the business of many figures in the very online Trump-supporting world is to capture and monetize attention, said Joan Donovan, assistant professor of journalism and emerging media studies at Boston University who studies online discourse.

“It’s a play for engagement. If you look at interest in Taylor Swift and the crossover with the NFL, you want to be part of those conversations online,” Donovan said. Mentions of Swift on fringe, right-wing internet sites like Trump’s Truth Social, have spiked in the last week, according to data from Pyrra Technologies, which tracks smaller platforms.

It’s not the first time Swift has been the target of conspiracy theories and right-wing ire. For years, the singer avoided politics entirely, but her background in country music fueled speculation, without evidence, that she might be a Republican and a Trump supporter. In 2016, Vice reported on white supremacists who claimed Swift as an “Aryan Goddess.”

Swift broke her political silence in 2018, endorsing a Democratic opponent to Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, whom Swift called “Trump in a wig,” in her home state of Tennessee. She openly supports LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter, and condemned Trump during the 2020 protests following George Floyd’s death.

Her evolution from teen ingenue to 30-something, unmarried, successful businesswoman has also been a break with conservative ideals of femininity, Donovan said. “Amongst the right wing, because she is getting older and hasn’t had children and whatnot, she’s less seen as the traditional ‘wifey’ material,” she said. “In broad terms, Taylor Swift represents older, independent women who do not need male support to have a career, to self-determine where they’re going.”

More recently, her relationship with Kelce, the Chiefs tight end, has added fuel to conservative criticisms. Kelce has also been attacked by conservatives because he’s done commercials for Pfizer vaccines and Bud Light.

The attention focused on Swift doesn’t just draw conspiracy theories. It also attracts abuse — and specifically, the kind of abuse that is disproportionately targeted at women online. In the last week, AI-generated sexually explicit images of Swift went viral on X and other social media sites, racking up tens of millions of views. The incident has resurfaced the prevalence of nonconsensual deepfake pornography, a problem that has plagued not only celebrities, but also regular women and girls, for years.

“The point of gendered abuse, the point of casting Taylor Swift in this light where she is not necessarily her own self-actualized person making her own decisions … and putting her in this sexualized light is to demean her and to undermine her power,” said Nina Jankowicz, a researcher and author of the book How To Be A Woman Online. “She’s just a sexual object, she’s just a tool of the Biden administration.”

Jankowicz herself has also been the victim of conspiracy theories and explicit deepfakes. She said she hopes the attention paid to the recent attacks on Swift will also highlight the harms of this kind of abuse on people who do not have the resources of a global superstar.

To hear some conservatives on cable news or on social media tell it, Taylor Swift is part of an elaborate plot to help Democrats win the November election. “I wonder who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month,” wrote former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy in January after the Kansas City Chiefs made the game with a strong performance from tight end Travis Kelce, Swift’s partner. “And I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall.”

Many voters just see that talk as noise to tune out. Ryan Allstun was wearing a Green Bay Packers hoodie at a recent rally in Lancaster, South Carolina, for GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley. Allstun said he supports former President Donald Trump and wants famous people to keep their politics private. But Allstun doesn’t look to celebrities such as Swift and Kelce for endorsements.

“Couldn’t care less,” he said. “To each their own.” Many people at recent Republican political events were far more ambivalent about the pop star than some personalities who suggest the media coverage of Swift and Kelce’s relationship is a pretext to boost a potential future endorsement of Democratic President Joe Biden. Some have gone so far as to suggest — some tongue in cheek, others perhaps not — that the U.S. government is running a covert operation involving Swift.

Some Republican strategists think the focus on Swift could hurt the party. “People just want to like Taylor Swift. They want to be able to watch football and listen to her music and not consider the political implications,” said Matt Gorman, vice president at Targeted Victory, a Republican political consulting firm. “I beg people who care about this to go outside and touch grass. Most everyday people don’t have the time or energy to care.”

Susan Cummins, a Haley supporter who moved to the Charleston, South Carolina, area from New Jersey about two years ago, said her social media feeds have been flooded with coverage of the couple. She considers Swift a “good performer,” but Cummins isn’t a huge fan. She follows the Philadelphia Eagles but doesn’t watch much football.

Cummins is familiar with the conspiracy theory and finds it “really far-fetched” that everything would be “rigged.” “It just seems over the top to me that there would be all these forces that would do something like this,” Cummins said. Conspiracy theories gain the widest attention when they target the most well-known figures and institutions. The latest right-wing conspiracy theories blend Swift with claims about the most watched sporting event in the U.S. and a pivotal presidential election, making any intersection of the events ripe for conspiracy theories.

“The good news is people don’t believe in conspiracy theories more than they have in the past. The bad news is that they believe them more than we paid attention to or cared about,” said Joseph Uscinski, a political science professor at the University of Miami who studies conspiracy theories. “If the right Pied Piper comes along then folks can be mobilized, sometimes with very devastating consequences,” Uscinski said.

Mellissa Best, a Trump supporter from Florence, South Carolina, wasn’t aware of the theories about Swift. But Best said she wouldn’t be surprised if powerful people tried to leverage Swift’s influence to improve Biden’s popularity among young people. Best said that if she had young children, she wouldn’t want them attending Swift’s concerts. “I believe these leftists will do anything to stay in power,” she said. “It wouldn’t surprise me.”

While Republicans and Democrats believe in conspiracy theories about equally, said Uscinski, Trump “flipped the game on its head” in 2016 and brought conspiratorial thinking to the forefront of conservative politics, making cases such as those against Swift more common because of new incentives in politics. Swift endorsed Biden in 2020. She also backed former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, in his 2018 run for Senate, which he lost to Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican.

While many of the same political rules apply to a Swift endorsement, one new challenge for Republicans in dismissing the drama is the reality that celebrity culture is now considered a mainstay of American politics. “Since 2016, for obvious reasons, it’s become difficult for Republicans to credibly make a case that celebrities should stay out of politics,” said David Jackson, a political scientist at Bowling Green State University who studies political endorsements. Jackson said Trump “created a new pathway to the presidency, from celebrity culture right to the Oval Office.”

The conspiracy theories have become an issue in the campaign as well, with Republican lawmakers dismissing the claims about Swift but also the significance of any potential endorsement for the 2024 election. “Taylor Swift has made a career off of writing songs about picking the wrong man, so I don’t think we should take advice from her now,” said Karoline Leavitt, a spokesperson for Trump’s 2024 campaign, in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity. Leavitt added that Democrats’ eagerness for a Swift endorsement shows they are “panicking about the prospect of Biden being evicted from the White House.”

Haley told a recent audience that she didn’t understand “what the obsession is.” “Taylor Swift is allowed to have a boyfriend. Taylor Swift is a good artist. I’ve taken my daughter to Taylor Swift concerts before. To have a conspiracy theory of all of this is bizarre,” she said.

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