Joe Rogan’s Endorsement of Bernie Sanders Proves Controversial

Rogan's past comments spark controversy for some voters

Bernie Sanders campaigning
The Bernie Sanders campaign's decision to promote Joe Rogan's endorsement has sparked controversy.
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / January 25, 2020 2:09 pm

A candidate for office touting a high-profile endorsement from a popular media figure should be par for the course in an election season. It should also be relatively uncontroversial: plenty of famous people on the left and right will happily tout the candidate they feel best represents them. 

But the case of popular podcaster Joe Rogan endorsing Bernie Sanders’s presidential run presents a trickier case. To an extent, that’s due to Sanders’s unexpected way of seeking the nomination. Even more, though, it’s about Rogan himself — and the way he’s beloved to some and controversial to others. 

As Zack Beauchamp writes at Vox, Rogan is a contradictory figure who impresses some and offends others — both with his own commentary and via some of his guests. “Rogan, despite his claims to be left-wing, also has a very long history of offensive commentary, especially about trans people,” Beauchamp writes. “He’s had friendly interviews with right-wing extremists like Milo Yiannopoulos, Candace Owens, and Alex Jones — and even voiced some support for 9/11 conspiracy theories.”

For some, the issue is less that Rogan endorsed Sanders and more that Sanders’s campaign has made a big deal about that endorsement

Writing at Slate, Aymann Ismail makes a compelling version of this argument. Ismail writes from the perspective of someone who was once a regular listener to Rogan’s podcast. Gradually, though, that changed: 

But the more I tuned in, the more uncomfortable I got. Under the albeit honorable guise of giving every end of the political spectrum a fair shake, he’s introduced his mega-audience to guests with unquestionably racist and sexist views, which go largely unchallenged.

But Rogan’s audience also represents a difficult-to-pigeonhole constituency, as Devin Gordon writes at The Atlantic. Gordon cites “Rogan’s courting of a middle-bro audience that the cultural elite hold in particular contempt” as one of the keys to his cultural importance. 

For some, the Rogan endorsement was a bold move for the Sanders campaign; for others, it was a wrongheaded decision opening the campaign up to criticism. Its impact on the race remains to be seen. And it wouldn’t be a run for President without some contentious decisions.

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