Do voters need to know about a political candidate’s sex life? This came up during Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign but also three decades earlier when adultery ended another presidential run now the focus of a new film.
Director Jason Reitman’s “The Front Runner,” about US Senator Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign and the scandalous affair that derailed it, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
It stars Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga and J.K. Simmons.
“The film is always asking what should we know, what do we need to know, what do we want to know,” Reitman told a press conference on Saturday.
“You ask one person and they’ll say I don’t need to know what’s going on in the president’s bedroom.
“And the next person might say he’s the president and everything should be available, he should have no secrets.”
After two terms of Ronald Reagan in the White House, the Democrats were eager to wrestle back power in 1988.
Hart was their star candidate, with intelligence, charisma and a strong political pedigree.
But it all fell apart when it came out that he was a womanizer who had an affair with a young woman, Donna Rice. Hart dropped out of the race.
The film is based on journalist Matt Bai’s book “All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid.”
In order to adapt the story for the silver screen, he teamed up with Jay Carson, who was press secretary for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton during her failed 2008 presidential bid.
Although the script was written before the 2016 election, when Trump was accused of paying hush money to two women with whom he allegedly had affairs — porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — Carson insists, “It’s a way to speak to what we’re going through today.”
“It’s a way to engage with the questions that we’re asking ourselves today without the divisiveness of having to be talking about something that’s happening right now,” echoed producer Helen Estabrook.
The movie presents all sorts of viewpoints, from the candidate himself defending his privacy, to journalists questioning his morality, and political staffers left to deal with the fallout.
There has certainly been a shift in what American voters want to glean about their leaders over the past three decades.
Bai suggested that the public cares less now about extramarital affairs when they cast a ballot.
“what is the measure of someone’s integrity? I think those are questions we still wrestle with, particularly in a news cycle that goes so fast,” he said.
“Do we (as journalists) assume that everyone is lying and fraudulent and it’s our job to find out how. Or do we endeavor to provide context?
“What have they been for their whole lives, their careers, how have they voted, have they been corrupt, have they been honest with constituents in addition to their wife?” Bai asked.
Jackman, who hung out with Hart to prepare for the role, noted: “Post-Watergate every single journalist, every voter assumes there is a flaw that needs to be found out.”
But, added Carson, “whoever we’re going to elect is a human being and a human being has flaws.
“So we have to ask ourselves what kind of flaws do we want in that person,” he said.
Reitman said he showed the film last week to Hart, and then they went out for hot chocolate.
The movie will be released on November 6, coinciding US midterm elections.