Jason Reitman's new film The Front Runner chronicles the rise and fall of presidential candidate Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman), is it really a true story? In the age of President Donald Trump constantly battling a litany of personal and professional scandals, the scandal that ended Hart's political career almost seems quaint. For those unfamiliar, Hart was seen as the likely presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in 1988; that was until accusations of an extramarital affair abruptly derailed his campaign.
Hart - a U.S. senator from Colorado - had managed to energize younger voters, somewhat similarly to the way Vermont senator Bernie Sanders did in the 2016 presidential election. With Hart's hopes dashed, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis ended up as the Democratic nominee, and went on to be crushed by Republican nominee - as well as sitting vice president under Ronald Reagan - George H.W. Bush. Bush carried 40 states, in a smaller-scale replay of Reagan's landslide victory over Walter Mondale in 1984.
Like any dramatic film based on real-life events, though, such as the recent space drama First Man, Hugh Jackman's The Front Runner movie takes some liberties with the truth.
What's True In Hugh Jackman's The Front Runner
As far as the historical record goes, the timeline of events surrounding Hart's campaign and affair scandal as seen in The Front Runner are largely accurate. Hart entered the 1988 Democratic primary in spring 1987 as the clear front runner, after having made a good showing for himself in 1984. Hart was indeed well-regarded for his ability to cut through the morass of politics in a way that allowed him to communicate with regular people, especially younger voters. Hart also indeed met a woman named Donna Rice on a Miami yacht called Monkey Business, and later met with her at his home in Washington, D.C.
Hart's scandal was indeed broken by The Miami Herald, and Hart did tell a reporter to "follow him around" when challenged about rumors of infidelity. Hart's quick exit from the race is also part of The Front Runner's true story, as it was only one week after the Donna Rice scandal broke that he suspended his campaign. Many did question at the time if reporters were digging too far into Hart's private life, as that line hadn't been crossed in prior campaigns. And as mentioned before the credits, Hart and wife Lee (played by Vera Farmiga in The Front Runner) are still married.
What's False In Hugh Jackman's The Front Runner
For starters, multiple characters within The Front Runner aren't directly based on real people, and are instead composites of many people in the orbit of the scandal. Most notably, the character of Washington Post journalist A.J. Parker (Mamoudou Athie), whom Hart has a humanizing moment with aboard his campaign plane during some turbulence, is a completely fabricated element of the story. Additionally, The Front Runner depicts Hart as delivering the infamous "follow me around" invitation to Parker, when in reality that was said during an interview with New York Times reporter E.J. Dionne.
While Reitman's The Front Runner doesn't entirely ignore it, it's important to note that it wasn't the Rice scandal that finally did Hart's campaign in. The public polls were mostly on Hart's side, but when Hart was confronted with photos documenting another alleged affair, he ultimately decided to quit the race. This element gets glossed over quickly in The Front Runner. Also, the film ends after Hart suspends his campaign, and there is no mention of the fact that Hart briefly got back in the race near the end of 1987. He once again shot back up in the polls, but other accusations related to campaign debt derailed him a second time, and he withdrew after "Super Tuesday."
What's New In Hugh Jackman's The Front Runner
In an interesting post-script to Hart's scandal only recently made public, Democratic political consultant Raymond Strother (not depicted in The Front Runner) confessed that his now-deceased Republican rival Lee Atwater told him in 1991 that the latter had orchestrated the entire Monkey Business scandal, including the taking of the infamous photo of Hart and Rice that surfaced a few weeks after Hart first suspended his campaign. While Atwater isn't alive to confirm Strother's claim, it's certainly an interesting new wrinkle in the story. One wonders if Reitman would have worked it into The Front Runner's true story had he known it about it beforehand.