Our Weird Politics

Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, and MAGA.

I rarely look at Twitter (or, if you prefer, X)* these days, but I occasionally still take a scroll. On Tuesday I was greeted by a deluge of MAGA types being upset about Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. The weirdest was some self-identified comedian who was trying to suggest that Kelce was actually a homosexual (I did not bookmark it and I refuse to go look for it, let alone link it. It was pretty grossly homophobic). Another example was the suggestion that no man would want a 34-year-old girlfriend because of the limited number of years left to have children. Somehow the idea of dating a massively wealthy, attractive female pop star was to be considered a strange thing for an athlete to be doing.

It just seemed utterly bizarre. I seem to recall an American archetype of the star quarterback dating the head cheerleader, which is, save for a few tweaks, the story that we have been witnessing this season at Arrowhead Stadium. I am not a big “lifestyle of the rich and famous”/celebrity gossip kind of guy, but I have found all of this to be utterly innocuous.

However, as my scroll down Twitter lane indicated, the Swift-Kelce thing had become part of our politics.

Via the NYT: Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce and a MAGA Meltdown.

The conspiracy theories coming out of the Make America Great Again contingent were already legion: that Ms. Swift is a secret agent of the Pentagon; that she is bolstering her fan base in preparation for her endorsement of President Biden’s re-election; or that she and Mr. Kelce are a contrived couple, assembled to boost the N.F.L. or Covid vaccines or Democrats or whatever.

“I wonder who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month,” Vivek Ramaswamy, the conspiratorial presidential candidate, turned Trump surrogate, pondered on social media on Monday. “And I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall.”

The pro-Trump broadcaster Mike Crispi led off on Sunday by claiming that the National Football League is “rigged” in order 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.”

More on the Pentagon theory (via NPR):

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.

This is all, of course, bizarre.

So, yes, Swift has endorsed Democrats and encouraged people to register to vote. This is hardly revolutionary. Meanwhile, Kelce has been pro-vaccine and has appeared in a Pfizer commercial for Covid vaccines. That this is considered politically salient is a sign of our times, and demonstrates that in many ways we are being driven not by substantive disagreements over policy, but instead by signifiers and symbols. This is especially true of MAGA, as the story driving this post demonstrates.

This all feels like a vague culture war kerfuffle that seems to be piggybacking on general griping that I have seen about TV networks showing Swift too much during Chiefs’ games. However, exactly what the big deal is has always escaped me, save that sports fans do love to gripe. I will also say that it feels (and I keep using that word deliberately) misogynistic (i.e., a “who let the girl into the clubhouse?” kind of vibe). There also is an undercurrent of objecting to a female who overtly uses her sexuality as part of her appeal.

I will say that it strikes me very much as part of the broader cablenewsification of American politics. It is a cheap, easy thing for talking heads to talk about, which is very much of a piece with Trump’s general approach to politics at his rallies. And, again, it has a certain culture war aspect to it. It is certainly telling that this topic has ignited a host of MAGA-related actors, including folks on Fox News (and other right-wing news outlets), Ramaswamy, and a host of folks on Twitter.

More via Politico: MAGA World Is About to Meet Taylor Swift’s Fandom. It Won’t Go Well and The Hill: Who wants Taylor Swift’s endorsement? Who wouldn’t, says former recipient.

I have to admit that while I can see attacking Taylor Swift might be an applause line at rallies and would also appeal to the demographic that watches Sean Hannity, I am having a hard time seeing how it is a politically astute move if the goal is to win a close election in November.


*I would note that the URL is still twitter.com, even if you surf there by typing in x.com.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, Sports, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. JohnMc says:

    I had been dismissing this ‘kerfuffle’ as one of those RWNJ things often blown up in the normal world because of the pleasure of saying ‘THOSE GUYS, SEE HOW CRAZY THEY ARE!’

    But apparently the hyper-connected internet RWNJ world actually IS that crazy.

    A Venn diagram of self proclaimed RWing nuts with self proclaimed Incels must be nearly a perfect circle.

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  2. Joe says:

    As a sideshow to this sideshow, one of the major party’s presumptive presidential candidates has reportedly been comparing his popularity to Ms. Swift’s. My reaction: how is this even a topic of conversation? This is such a reminder about how that particular candidate’s time in office was so exhausting. Gawd! Enough! I hope a lot of people respond similarly.

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  3. Kathy says:

    *I would note that the URL is still twitter.com, even if you surf there by typing in x.com.

    Did we not agree it’s called Xitter now?

    As noted, Swift has endorsed Democratic candidates since 2018. Specifically she endorsed Biden in 2020. The unusual, newsworthy development would be for her not to endorse Biden this year.

    I bet it’s possible to make it seem sinister that some celebrity walked their dog, or had a drink at a bar, or bought a bag of chips.

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  4. Slugger says:

    She might be a Pentagon asset? But don’t we love the Pentagon and all who serve our country?
    I know that showing celebrities attending sports events is a bit overdone. They used to put the camera on Jack Nicholson as much as on Magic (well A.C. Greene anyway). I don’t think that Jack or Spike Lee at Knicks games were sending secret messages to undercover operatives.

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  5. al Ameda says:

    Don’t worry, they have a counter – Kid Rock. He’s last known for leading a boycott of Bud Light and shooting up cases of said ‘beer.’

    And, if Kid isn’t available I’m pretty sure Ted Nugent is.

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  6. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    “I bet it’s possible to make it seem sinister that some celebrity walked their dog…”

    Oh, my dear, you have no idea of the depths of lunacy to which the MAGAs can descend.

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  7. Jen says:

    It’s INSANE. Seriously crazy. People have lost their d@mn minds complaining about this.

    I have a fairly well-curated friends list on Facebook, so I don’t see much of the garbage complaining, but…seriously. For every post that basically says “Check your misogyny if you have an issue with this,” there’s at least one douchecanoe who says “they show her too much.” (FYI, a NYT analysis says that’s <30 seconds per game).

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  8. Kylopod says:

    The coverage I’ve seen over the recent Taylor Swift flap usually omits the history, which I think provides insight into what’s behind it.

    For a long time, the 4chan Nazis were absolutely convinced she secretly agreed with them. They called her an “Aryan goddess.” They thought she was doing all sorts of wink-wink to that crowd, and her continued silence on the matter was taken as proof.

    When she finally made her political views known in 2018–in an endorsement of Phil Bredesen that featured a strongly worded condemnation of racism, sexism, and homophobia, and a critique of Marsha Blackburn’s record on those issues–I think it was seen by the right as a betrayal. How could this tall, blonde, wholesome country singer, and the biggest pop star in the world currently, be a supporter of the demonrats?

    Their reaction isn’t just political–it’s personal.

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  9. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    I recall occasional shots of wives of star players, mostly on big games.

    But when was the last time a star player on a championship team dated the world’s most popular entertainer?

    There are probably people who don’t like Taylor Swift in countries that don’t like football, who know Swift and Kelce are dating.

    And the Pentagon is wasting this asset on an endorsement of a candidate Swift already endorsed four years ago?

    The next conspiracy theory that doesn’t unravel with three milliseconds of critical thought will be the first.

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  10. Andy says:

    It’s been very weird, but fantastic for the memes!

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  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Kylopod: I don’t think you’re wrong. What you describe is a thing. I think there’s another thing going on, too.

    On the longest timescale, they are losing. They are losing the battle about same sex marriage, and even about trans acceptance. They are losing this next election. They have backed a loser, who makes excuses for losing to make it look like he didn’t lose at all, and they are doing it now. The Left is consipiring against them.

    (It’s not a conspiracy, which is a thing kept secret. I think election denial and the actions of 1/6 are a betrayal of everything the US stands for, and I’m happy to say it openly, so yeah, I am focused on defeating the authoratarianism embedded.)

    So seeing swift and Kelce (who strongly endorses the Covid vaccination, it seems) kind of punctures their bubble, which they find really unpleasant. Honestly, I find it unpleasant when that sort of thing happens, but I also recognize it as the right sort of unpleasantness.

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  12. EddieInCA says:

    This is nothing new:

    Joe DiMaggio / Marilyn Monroe.
    David Beckham / Posh Spice.
    Tom Brady / Giselle
    Jennifer Lopez / Alex Rodriguez
    Dwayne Wade / Gabrielle Union
    Anna Kournikova / Enrique Iglesias
    Gerard Pique / Shakira
    Dustin Johnson / Paulia Gretzky

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

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  13. charontwo says:

    I am having a hard time seeing how it is a politically astute move if the goal is to win a close election in November.

    The energy for this comes from the players who care more about viewers and ratings and clicks and page views and likes and followers than low priority “the goal to win a close election in November.”

    People like Rupert Murdoch care a fuckton more about ratings than winning elections.

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  14. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Oh and I also think there’s some performance art going on as regards “who can come up with the most entertaining story that dismisses these events as not meaning ‘we are a bunch of losers who are out of touch with reality'”

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  15. CSK says:

    @Kylopod:

    Back in 2016, Andrew Anglin said:”it is an established fact that Taylor Swift is secretly a Nazi and is waiting for the time when Donald Trump makes it safe for her to come our and announce her Aryan agenda to the world.”

    Anglin also predicted that Swift would “be betrothed” to Donnie Junior and they would be crowned as American royalty.

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  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    @charontwo: You know, I think this is a really good example of something commenters here like to complain about when it happens on the left. People, as opposed to politicians (!), will react in a variety of ways to events, and not all those ways are going to be the best in terms of electoral politics. But that’s because they are people with motivations that are different than winning the next election. Sure, they may want that, but there are other things they want more.

    Likes and clicks, for instance. Applause from the “right” people. And so on.

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  17. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    Anglin also predicted that Swift would “be betrothed” to Donnie Junior and they would be crowned as American royalty.

    That sounds like a Fanfic plot: Taylor in the Ninth Circle Of Hell (On a Bad Day).

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  18. steve says:

    How could Travis possibly be interested in such an old woman. She is way over 30 years old at 34. She probably has a mind of her own and she would not be financially dependent upon him. Absolutely nothing appealing about her. He should contact Matt Gaetz. Matt could find him a nice, compliant 16 y/o.

    Steve

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  19. CSK says:

    @steve:

    Didn’t Trump once say that women over 35 didn’t appeal to him because “they know too much”?

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  20. Kylopod says:

    @CSK:

    Back in 2016, Andrew Anglin said:”it is an established fact that Taylor Swift is secretly a Nazi and is waiting for the time when Donald Trump makes it safe for her to come our and announce her Aryan agenda to the world.”

    Thanks for the quote. I wasn’t aware of it, or had forgotten.

    I do remember that 2016 was the peak of the alt-right thinking it could trojan-horse itself into power and relevance. Of course the person they had their eye on the most was Donald Trump. And in that case, I think they were right that he was wink-winking at them. But that’s the thing about the whole wink-wink theory–it’s a Rorschach test where it’s very easy to see what one wants to see. It’s also unfalsifiable. Even now, the people who once believed she was secretly on their side could choose to maintain that belief by assuming she’s a sextuple agent playing some kind of longer game. But at least the mainstream right (I have no idea what Anglin and co. are saying now) prefer to push the whole persecution-from-the-Hollywood-elite angle. Swift as a closet rightist doesn’t suit them anymore.

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  21. Franklin says:

    @CSK: I don’t recall hearing of this Andrew Anglin. If he’s a comedian, that might not be a bad bit …

    Anyway, I’m just baffled at this whole episode, but backed into a corner I have to admit Swift is sexier than Trump.

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  22. charontwo says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Taylor Swift’s activities registering voters etc. could have some electoral impact. But this little media dustup, not so much.

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  23. Kylopod says:

    @Franklin: Anglin is an open neo-Nazi who was somewhat of a leader in the alt-right movement during 2016. He got into legal trouble when he sicced his troll army on a Jewish real estate agent who had been involved in a property dispute with Richard Spencer’s mother. They sent threatening anti-Semitic messages to her. She was awarded millions, but last I heard he hasn’t paid a cent.

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  24. MarkedMan says:

    Our politics aren’t weird. It’s just that there are a bunch of weirdos who are involved in politics. Wherever they go they will bring lunacy and hysteria with them.

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  25. CSK says:

    @Joe:

    “We’re more popular than Jesus now.” — John Lennon on The Beatles, 1966

    “I’m more popular than Taylor Swift.” — Donald Trump, 2024

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  26. DrDaveT says:

    And in contiguous reality, global sea surface temperature hit an all-time record yesterday — the hottest sea surface day ever recorded — a full month and a half earlier than the typical annual peak. But nobody has any brain cells left to worry about that, because we’re too busy fighting off the political equivalent of the Zombie Apocalypse. Trumpism, nativism, and plain old atavism have eaten their brains, and now they’re hungry for ours.

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  27. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Travis Kelce Travis Kelce Travis Kelce Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Travis Kelce Travis Kelce Travis Kelce Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Travis Kelce Travis Kelce Travis Kelce Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Travis Kelce Travis Kelce Travis Kelce Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Travis Kelce Travis Kelce Travis Kelce…

    Are there MAGA heads blowing up everywhere now?

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  28. Jen says:
  29. gVOR10 says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Oh and I also think there’s some performance art going on as regards “who can come up with the most entertaining story that dismisses these events as not meaning ‘we are a bunch of losers who are out of touch with reality’”

    It’s commonplace in RW comment threads to see the escalation – I don’t like Hillary, I hate Hillary, I despise Hillary, I despise Hilary and her voice, Hillary is shrill, Hillary is a shrill harridan, … Hillary is a demon who murders small boys in the basement of a pizza parlor.

    As to “a bunch of losers”, occasionally I’ll see a comment like, “Dems aren’t beating us at the polls, they’re beating us through the culture.” So close, and yet so far, from recognizing it isn’t Dems manipulating the culture, it’s the culture. It moved. Dems accommodated, Rs are fighting it.

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  30. Gustopher says:

    @Kylopod: To be fair to the 4chan Nazis*, if you ever saw her video for “Wildest Dreams”… it’s either actively but slyly pro-white-supremacist or really clueless. It was the latter, but it’s really hard to be sure just by looking at it.

    The video is set in a glamorized Hollywood heyday film production taking place on location in Africa, and it could easily be saying that things were better under colonialism.

    And her apologies and explanations seemed forced, like she was just going through the motions because she had to. Was that because she was a secret Nazi working in entertainment and had to keep the “globalists” happy, or because she knew to listen to her publicists and try to get in front of it quickly, before she understood what people found tone-deaf or offensive. Again, likely the latter.

    But if you ever looked at a white supremacist… they’re seldom beautiful, attractive people. Or even halfway decent looking people. Or fun. They so wanted there to be one good looking Nazi woman who wasn’t a scold. Who wouldn’t want their niche demographic fandom to be represented by an attractive, fun, successful woman?

    I guess they’ve had to go back to their Margaret Thatcher pinup calendars or whatever. Poor 4chan Nazis.

    (I quite like Taylor’s album “folklore” and the stuff she has done since then. Before that, it seems trite. I think somewhere along the line she grew up, and now probably would at least understand why people are upset if she were to accidentally offend people)

    ——
    *: not that I want to be fair to 4chan Nazis, or think anyone should do so in real life, but just as a thought experiment…

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  31. Jen says:

    @Gustopher:

    it’s either actively but slyly pro-white-supremacist or really clueless.

    What?? That’s crazy. It’s a song about a doomed relationship, and the video is very clearly a 1950s film set. It’s a reference to the affair Elizabeth Taylor (note the name!) had with Richard Burton on-set when they were filming Cleopatra.

    She’s stated that the character was a homage to her grandmother, FFS. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marjorie_Finlay

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Good grief.

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  32. DrDaveT says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Anna Kournikova / Enrique Iglesias

    OK, that one was new to me. Whodathunkit?

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  33. Tony W says:

    The Republican response to losing the women’s demographic because their dog caught the Roe v Wade car, is to further alienate “Swiftie” women 18-40?

    I can’t help but think a few Democratic operatives have wormed their way into the RNC and are proposing policy in an effort to destroy the Republican Party from the inside.

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