Almost immediately, the donations started pouring in. Senior members of Mr. Yang’s campaign have said his two-hour interview with Mr. Rogan was responsible for bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars and significantly raising his profile.
Three months later, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii joined the podcast; three months after that, on came Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. All of the candidates knew just how huge an audience Mr. Rogan had developed.
This week, Mr. Rogan, the stand-up comedian, mixed martial arts commentator and sometime actor who, through his podcast, has become an unlikely political influencer, said he would throw his support behind Mr. Sanders in the 2020 Democratic primary — an endorsement that could bolster the candidate particularly among the legions of disaffected male voters who have long been critical to his chances to win.
“I think I’ll probably vote for Bernie,” Mr. Rogan told Bari Weiss, an editor and writer for the New York Times Opinion section, in an episode of his podcast released Tuesday. “Him as a human being, when I was hanging out with him, I believe in him, I like him — I like him a lot.”
“He’s been insanely consistent his entire life,” Mr. Rogan added. “He’s basically been saying the same thing, been for the same thing, his whole life. And that in and of itself is a very powerful structure to operate from.”
Perhaps in recognition of Mr. Rogan’s reach, Mr. Sanders’s campaign quickly capitalized on the comments, posting a video of them on its Twitter account Thursday afternoon.
But the Sanders campaign’s decision to lean into Mr. Rogan’s praise has drawn fire from some liberals and progressives — another group of voters at the core of Mr. Sanders’s political base — who recalled Mr. Rogan’s history of giving voice to conspiracy theories, making comments that some see as bigoted toward transgender people and making a racist remark about a black neighborhood on his podcast.
Rogan’s impact on the 2020 race
A former host of the reality competition series “Fear Factor” and an actor who played an electrician on the NBC comedy series “NewsRadio,” Mr. Rogan has built an expansive following of mostly men through his podcast, appealing particularly to disaffected white men, many of whom have proudly labeled themselves as “Bernie Bros.”
Mr. Rogan’s show is one of the most popular podcasts in America and is downloaded millions of times each week. His long-form interviews offer a profanity-laced mix of blunt assessment and thoughtful nudging that has won him countless fans, many of whom share a distaste for what they see as an overemphasis on political correctness in society.
Mr. Rogan had previously said he would vote for Ms. Gabbard. And Mr. Yang’s advisers have long acknowledged that being on Mr. Rogan’s show helped their candidate break out. In some retellings, Mr. Yang’s appearance on the podcast was perhaps the single biggest turning point in his campaign, an event that vaulted the businessman onto voters’ radars.
Like Mr. Sanders, both Ms. Gabbard and Mr. Yang stand somewhat outside the Democratic mainstream and have been praised by supporters as truth tellers directly confronting America’s problems. In fact, the three candidates have won support among such a similar share of young, male voters who lean Republican, Libertarian or independent that Ms. Gabbard and Mr. Yang could potentially peel away critical support from Mr. Sanders as he seeks to win early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Conspiracy theories and controversial comments
Mr. Rogan and his podcast are immensely popular, but he is also a controversial figure.
Through his podcast, Mr. Rogan twice gave a platform to the Infowars founder and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who spread the false narrative that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax and that the parents of the children killed were “crisis actors.” (Mr. Jones has been sued for defamation by the father of one of the shooting victims.)
“I go back and forth with conspiracies. I have a love-hate relationship with conspiracies,” Mr. Rogan said last April on his podcast.
He has come under scrutiny for comments and jokes he has reportedly made about M.M.A. fighters and about male and female bodies that some say are harmful to transgender people; he has also ridiculed gender-neutral pronouns.
“One thing we can do is keep women from getting beaten up by men — and men who transition to being women,” he said in 2018 when discussing a transgender M.M.A. fighter. “If you think that’s fair,” he added, using an expletive, “you’re crazy.”
“The arguments for it,” he continued, are “riddled with progressive speak.”
In the wake of his endorsement of Mr. Sanders, Mr. Rogan has also faced social media condemnation for a remark he made several years ago in which he compared going into a black neighborhood to see a movie with the movie itself, “Planet of the Apes.”
“We get out, we’re giggling, ‘We’re going to go see Planet of the Apes.’ We walk into Planet of the Apes. We walked into Africa,” he said on his podcast in 2013.
“We walked into the blackest neighborhood we could find,” Mr. Rogan continued, noting that he had said a “racist thing.”
An attempt to reach Mr. Rogan and his representatives was not successful.
Blowback for Sanders
The Sanders campaign came under fire this week from critics who said it should not have highlighted Mr. Rogan’s endorsement.
“Rogan is an incredibly influential bigot and Democrats should be marginalizing him,” Carlos Maza, a video producer and media critic, wrote on Twitter after criticizing the Sanders campaign’s decision to make and post the Rogan video.
“Rogan’s transphobia harm a community whose rights are actively under attack right now,” added Alexis Goldstein, a writer, organizer and co-host of the “Humorless Queers” podcast. “This isn’t good for a Dem candidate to boost with an official campaign video.”
Late Friday, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization, released a statement praising Mr. Sanders’s support for “the rights of L.G.B.T.Q. people” but condemning what it said was Mr. Rogan’s “vicious rhetoric” that “has dehumanized transgender people.”
“Given Rogan’s comments, it is disappointing that the Sanders campaign has accepted and promoted the endorsement,” Alphonso David, the organization’s president, said in the statement. “The Sanders campaign must reconsider this endorsement and the decision to publicize the views of someone who has consistently attacked and dehumanized marginalized people.”
In its own statement, the Sanders campaign said its goal was “to build a multiracial, multigenerational movement that is large enough to defeat Donald Trump and the powerful special interests whose greed and corruption is the root cause of the outrageous inequality in America.”
“Sharing a big tent requires including those who do not share every one of our beliefs, while always making clear that we will never compromise our values,” Briahna Joy Gray, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said in the statement. “The truth is that by standing together in solidarity, we share the values of love and respect that will move us in the direction of a more humane, more equal world.”
Earlier this month, Ms. Gray sent and then deleted a tweet expressing her views about Mr. Rogan: “Listening to Joe Rogan and it’s better political analysis than most stuff I hear on the MSM,” she said, in an apparent reference to the mainstream media.