The Oscar-winning actor, 51, revealed in an interview last month that he was considering a run for Governor of Texas in 2022 but did not reveal for which party .
Reactions ranged from joyful enthusiasm of fans and those impressed by his recent Texas winter storm relief drive and gun-control campaigns, to stark warnings to “stay out of Texas politics” and eye-rolls in established Republican and Democratic political circles in the Lone Star State.
Now, insiders have told Politico that the Hollywood star has quietly started making calls to political experts to “take the temperature” before he decides whether to “throw his hat in the ring” and run against current Republican Governor Greg Abbott, 63, who has indicated that he will seek a third term.
The Independent has contacted Mr McConaughey’s representative for comment.
Republican strategist, Karl Rove, said of Mr McConaughey’s potential run: “I find it improbable, but it’s not out of the question.”
He added: “The question is: Would he run as a Republican? A Democrat? Independent? And where is he on the political scale? He says he has a funny phrase about being a hardcore centrist, but what party would he run under?”
Matthew Dowd, founder of “Country Over Party” and former chief strategist on the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, told Politico: “I think there’s an impression of, ‘Do we really need another celebrity candidate in the midst of this?’”
But Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist, said: “I’m a little more surprised that people aren’t taking him more seriously, honestly. Celebrity in this country counts for a lot … it’s not like some C-list actor no one likes. He has an appeal.”
When Mr McConaughey first mooted a run earlier this year, many dismissed him as yet another inexperienced, Hollywood star “interfering” in politics – and warned him not to look to the increasingly long list of celebrities-turned-politicians - former presidents Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan; and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as his role-models.
CNN political analyst Jim Moore warned the True Detective star: “You are not prepared. Be kind to your state and yourself. Stick with what you know.”
But following a March Gallup poll that revealed a record-high 62 per cent of Americans feel that a third party option is needed, some have started eyeing the A-lister from Austin, who has refused to align as a Republican or Democrat, as a potential candidate.
On 10 March, The Libertarian Party of Texas, the state arm of the US’s third most popular party, tweeted: “Hey, @McConaughey, can we talk?”
Third, or “minor”, parties have historically performed poorly in American politics. This is largely attributed to first-past-the-post (FPTP), which favours a two-party system, creating less room for smaller parties who cannot gain any representation without an outright win.
Since 1990, just six (2 per cent) of governors out of 369 have been elected from minor parties. The most recent was Alaska’s Bill Walker, a Republican turned Independent, who merged his campaign with Democratic nominee Byron Mallott in 2014. He dropped out of the 2018 race after low polling.
Only 53 Independent candidates for governor (14 per cent) have won at least 5 per cent of the vote.
An Independent, third-party candidate has never won a presidential election, not counting fresident George Washington who ran as an Independent but supported by the Federalist party.
Only once did a major party come third in a general election. In 1912, former president Theodore Roosevelt, represented by the Progressive Party, surpassed the Republicans to come second but was beaten by the Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
Not exactly a rounding endorsement for Mr McConaughey to run as a third-party nominee.
But Bekah Congdon, vice-chair of the Texas arm of the Libertarian Party, who tweeted at Mr McConaughey and is hoping to set up a meeting, said that following what some see as disappointing leadership by Republican Abbott, there may be an opportunity.
She told The Independent: “Texas has for so long felt like a completely red state and we know it’s not. It has been about 26 years since a Democrat won a statewide electron here [Ann Richards 1991-1995] so it’s clear we have been stuck in one way of thinking for such a long time and that is holding us back as a state.”
Founded in 1971 following the Watergate scandal and Vietnam War, the Libertarians focus on the rights of individuals over “government intervention”. They bill themselves as culturally liberal and fiscally conservative, supporting same-sex marriage but also gun-rights (which Ms Congdon admits might not align with the actor’s previous campaigns on gun-control).
In 2016 the party appeared to be on the rise. It counted two ex-governors as its presidential candidates and received 4.5million (3.3 per cent) votes in its most successful national election result ever.
But in 2020, following a polarising four years, its popularity faded. Libertarian vice presidential candidate, Spike Cohen, who promised “free ponies” and “zombie power”, and presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen won just 1.86million votes (1.18 per cent).
Ms Congdon said that Mr McConaughey appealed because of his “independent spirit”.
“He isn’t Republican or Democrat and does a lot of pointing out negatives and positives on both sides. Wanting to stop nasty political rhetoric and bridge that divide”, she said.
“It has been building over the years as he has become more vocal here. He is someone who is relatable, someone who people like and respect, and has an enviable platform.”
Speaking toThe Longview News Journal in March, Mr McConaughey said he was “serious about the right leadership role” but was put off by bipartisan politics.
He said: “For me, I need politics to define its purpose before I would choose it as a possible lane for me to pursue. I don’t know that politics is my category where I would be the most useful — I am looking for where I would be the most useful and it may be that I could be more useful as a free agent.”
He then gave a trademark, rambling monologue in which he appeared to endorse a third option, outside of mainstream politics.
“I’ve said this analogy a few times before, but someone told me: ‘There ain’t nothing in the middle but dead armadillos and yellow lines.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m walking right down the yellow lines, right in the middle of the highway right now. And the armadillos are free having a great time, because right now, both sides are so far to the right or the left, there aren’t even tires on the pavement.’”
Ms Congdon concluded: “It’s hard to tell if he’s serious, but we’re here for it if he is.”
Born in Uvalde, Texas in 1969, the actor hit the big time in 1993’s coming-of-age film, Dazed and Confused, before starring in a slew of critically-panned romantic comedies in the 2000s that painted him as a talentless hunk known for giving winding, nonsensical interviews and his catchphrase: “Alright, alright, alright”.
In the 2010s the actor, who was once arrested for playing the bongos naked, launched a comeback which he called a “McConaissance”, appearing in multiple hits including The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013 and winning an Academy Award for his role in Dallas Buyer’s Club in 2014.
Over the last few years the actor, along with other Texas-born stars like Beyoncé and Sandra Bullock, has become increasingly active in civic life in his home state. In the wake of disasters, he has made large financial donations and been boots-on-the-ground with his foundation, Just Keep Livin’, that opened in 2008.
In 2017 he ruffled feathers when he called for the entertainment industry to get behind Donald Trump and be “constructive” during his presidency.
A year later he spoke at gun-control rally, March for Our Lives, where he urged law-abiding, gun owners to “take one for the team” and give up some of their gun rights.
At the start of the Covid pandemic, the city of Austin broadcast the “Matt Signal”, using the well-liked actor in a series of PSA ads to persuade residents to stay at home and practise social distancing.
In fall 2020, signs of a potential political future for Mr McConaughey began to emerge. The star, who was appointed “Minister for Culture” and visiting film professor by his alma mater, the University of Texas, in 2019, started to tell multiple media outlets that he was looking for a “leadership role” where he can effect change.
When a freak snowstorm hit Texas in February and crippled the state’s power grid, leaving thousands of residents without heat and electricity, Mr McConaughey was one of several Texas-born celebrities to fundraise.
Soon afterwards, the magazine,Texas Monthly, published a piece titled “Matthew McConaughey and Beyoncé Did More for Texas Than Ted Cruz” lambasting the disgraced Texas senator who was caught breaking lockdown rules to escape the storm with a trip to a Cancun, Mexico.
On social media his mooted run has received mixed reviews. Some are calling for “Beto or bust”, referring to Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic politician who lost the Texas Senate race to Mr Cruz in 2018 and the presidential nomination in 2020.
But even if Mr McConaughey declined the invitation from the Libertarians (whose own candidate selection system would be his first hurdle) many believe there could still be space for a third party, or a high-profile, Independent candidate.
The most recent high-profile success story is Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, the longest-serving Independent senator, who has switched back and forth between Independent and Democrat several times.
While his 2016 and 2020 Democrat presidential runs were unsuccessful, some analysts credit Senator Sanders grassroots campaigns with pushing the party further left.
In March a New York Times op-ed conceded that the time may be right for a third-party of “the liberal centre” to rise, showing “respect for the outcome of elections, the rule of law [and] freedom of speech” but “scepticism of identity politics ... dictators and demagogues”.
Conservative columnist Bret Stephens wrote: “This is not a political party, yet. But it could be the seeds of a party.”
Alright, alright, alright.