The Presidential Candidates and Their Television Antihero Counterparts: An Investigation
Fall television is back at long last but, in a bit of poor planning that the Founding Fathers really should have anticipated, so too is presidential primary season, and it promises to be even more of a shitshow than 2012, which is really saying something.
In today’s level of media saturation, the lines between politics and pop culture grow ever blurrier, especially with the Republican field being led by a former reality TV host, and it’s only a matter of time before they grow together entirely.
Hillary Clinton- Cookie Lyon, Empire
Embattled music mogul Lucious Lyon and his first-billed actor, human disaster Terrence Howard, are the nominal lead of the hit Fox show, but much like former President Clinton, his wife has been the star of the show since very early on. Like Cookie, Hillary had a similar uphill climb getting her name out there independent of her husband’s, and distinguishes herself by being notably more progressive on issues of gender and sexuality—this time around, at least.
Bernie Sanders- Walter White, Breaking Bad
From Emmett Brown to Larry David (the TV version), there are few things the Internet loves more than comparing the fiery Vermont senator to fictional characters, and in the ranks of TV antiheroes, the teacher-turned-meth kingpin is another clear parallel. Although Bernie is significantly more altruistic than his Cranstonian counterpart, they share a hairline, gravelly intonation, a scholarly background and disillusionment with the American healthcare system. Also, much like Breaking Bad, even though Bernie Sanders is one of the best out there with a winning message, some of his online fans are the most obnoxious people who have ever drawn breath.
Martin O’Malley- Terry Muldoon, Public Morals
Like the protagonist of Ed Burns’ 1960s-set New York crime drama, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley is a handsome Irish-American family man whose presence lots of people reading this probably hadn’t even noticed. Before and since his also-ran performance in the first Democratic debate, O’Malley has strived to tout his progressive credentials, along with whatever the hell this is, but his struggle mirrors a common criticism of Public Morals; when everything already on TV is doing what you do, what makes you special?
Donald Trump- Tony Soprano, The Sopranos
Tony and the Apprentice host-cum-Republican frontrunner (LOL) make a lot of sense together. They’re both loud, aggressive and hypermasculine, appealing heavily to fans of a bygone age when men were men and “nuance” stayed in France where it belonged with all the other fruity words. Tony, like Trump, inherited his power and privilege from his father but still finds time to whine about what a hard job he has, although at least Tony got an actual therapist for it instead of a Twitter account.
Jeb Bush- Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire
Much like Jeb!, Enoch Thompson escaped the shadow of a disappointing father to find political success within the Republican party, all the while taking pride in remaining more civilized than some of his more vicious rivals. Like Nucky, Jeb appears to have realized that he “can’t be half a gangster,” but unlike Nucky, who responded by actually getting his hands dirty, Jeb’s attempts at stepping up his game are more along the lines of comical incompetence, viz. his attempt at showing the world that OMG, Donald Trump is a filthy liberal! Like Nucky, Bush has largely taken a backseat in a show that was pitched as all about him, but at least Nucky had the good graces to leave when his show ended. Jeb, not so much.
Ben Carson- Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal
Soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is currently second only to Trump in the polls among GOP candidates, which is kind of alarming to anyone who’s actually listened to what he has to say, which includes such greatest hits as “prison rape proves homosexuality is a choice,” “Obamacare is as bad as slavery” and “Hitler Hitler Hitler Hitler.” Coverage of these remarks, however, has only galvanized his supporters, who take that criticism as proof of a press mobilized against him, not unlike how another famous Baltimore-based doctor, despite all evidence to the contrary, managed to convince his colleagues at the FBI that not only was he not a cannibalistic serial killer, the FBI profiler who discovered his secret was. Despite all this, The Mary Sue will gladly offer a formal editorial endorsement of Carson’s candidacy if he shows up to the next debate in one of Dr. Lecter’s distinctive three-piece suits [Editor’s Note: We are definitely not doing that.]
Ted Cruz- Don Draper, Mad Men
The obvious comparison here is how Don Draper inhabits a world where women and LGBTQ+ people are second-class citizens and white men in suits make all the decisions, whereas Cruz simply brings that world with him wherever he goes (Draper once actually fired a guy for being gay, whereas Cruz simply believes it should remain legal to), but it goes deeper than that. The men born Rafael Cruz and Dick Whitman are, above all, total ciphers, a sort of human gas with the ability to fill whatever space they need to. In Draper’s case, that’s the no-name Midwestern son of a prostitute stealing his dead commander’s identity to become an urbane adman, and in Cruz’s case, an Ivy League-educated lawyer who refused to study with anyone from “minor Ivies” becomes a man of the people who’s going to take Real America back from them ivory-tower elitists now that he’s done using them to get his job. Like Jon Hamm, who finally won an Emmy for his work this year, Cruz’s backers also believe their man has been entitled to the top prize for quite some time, although in this case they think he was anointed from birth.
Marco Rubio- Dexter Morgan, Dexter
Years ago, when this young upstart from Florida burst onto the scene, he seemed new and exciting and original. As time wore on, however, Rubio, much like Showtime’s late serial-killer-killer show, increasingly lost his luster, with his now-infamous water moment and his incoherent positions on issues that supposedly distinguished him from the rest of the pack, like immigration reform and abortion rights exacerbating his also-ran status. With luck, Rubio won’t become a lumberjack by the end of the primaries, but in an election season like this, who can honestly say at this point?
Lincoln Chafee- Ryan Hardy, The Following
This is over but no one noticed or cared.
Zack Budryk is a Washington, D.C-based editor and journalist who is happiest writing about the intersection of gender issues, popular culture and snark, which is more common than you would think. He lives in Alexandria with two badly-behaved cats, a fairly chill betta fish and his wife Raychel, a feminist, environmental activist and general force to be reckoned with. He recently completed his first novel, but don’t hold that against him. He blogs at and tweets as ZackBudryk, appropriately enough.
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