In the latest addition to the disturbing game of Mad Libs that is 2020, Kanye West is running for president. On July 4th, the rapper-cum-fashion designer-cum-media mogul posted the announcement to Twitter, quickly gaining over one million favorites. West first planted the seed of a presidential run at the 2015 Video Music Awards, during an acceptance speech for the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award, spurring mostly jokes and gaining little real political traction. However in the years since 2015, West’s image as one of the most important rappers of all time has been replaced, or at least subsidized by that of a disturbed megalomaniac prone to unintelligible rants and outrageous publicity stunts. This shift coupled with the current surreal state of politics means that West’s 2020 announcement could hold significantly more potential energy than before.
“”My campaign is Kanye West YES, not YEP, not YEAH. YES. YES. YES… When I’m president, let’s also have some fun. Let’s get past all the racism conversation, let’s empower people with 40 acres and a mule, let’s give some land, that’s the plan…
For the other candidates, I just gracefully suggest y’all bow out—Trump and Biden, gracefully bow out. It’s God’s country, we are doing everything in service to God, nobody but God no more.” – Kanye West, Forbes
West’s candidacy can be seen as the culmination of a long and complicated relationship with politics. He has been highly praised for highlighting Black struggle on songs like “Blood on the Leaves,” critiquing the police on “All Falls Down” and “Jesus Walks,” and condemning systems of oppression on “Power.” This kind of social consciousness, seemingly inherent to West’s music, made his alignment with Donald Trump, a president whose victory spiked the rate of hate crimes across the US, all the more shocking. His now-infamous 2018 visit to the White House, where he donned a MAGA hat and posed for photos with President Trump, inflamed fans and cemented his reputation as a polarizing political actor.
While some believe West’s latest announcement is simply a stunt to promote his next album, some suspect a more sinister motive, citing West’s ties with President Trump. Twitter user @MunroeBergdorf speculates that “It’s a ploy to divide the black vote and take votes away from Joe Biden.” The Daily Beast also reported that despite West recently becoming a billionaire, his company Yeezy “received a multimillion-dollar loan as part of the federal government’s coronavirus stimulus package.” The loan, reportedly between two and five million dollars, could point to ties between Trump and West, indicating a potential conflict of interest in West’s presidential run.
In a recent interview with Forbes, West cleared up some of the questions his July 4th announcement sparked, and raised many more. He denied that his run is a longform joke or media stunt, announced he’d be running as a “Birthday Party” candidate, and claimed that his only current advisors are Space X CEO Elon Musk, Michelle Tidball (an unknown preacher from Wyoming West claims as his running mate), and wife Kim Kardashian West. He also tentatively revoked his previous support of Trump, stating that he lost confidence after the president reportedly hid in the White House bunker during Black Lives Matter protests. However he was unabashed in his condemning of Biden, and admitted he’s comfortable if his campaign shifts voters away from the Democratic party, critiquing them for their treatment of Black voters. He tells Forbes, “A lot of times just like political parties they feel all Blacks have to be Democrat. This man, Joe Biden, said if you don’t vote for me, then you are not Black.”
“That is a form of racism and white supremacy and white control to say that all Black people need to be Democrat…The reason why this is the first day I registered to vote is because I was scared. I was told that if I voted on Trump my music career would be over. I was threatened into being in one party. I was threatened as a celebrity into being in one party. I was threatened as a Black man into the Democratic party. And that’s what the Democrats are doing, emotionally, to my people. Threatening them to the point where this white man can tell a Black man if you don’t vote for me, you’re not Black.” – Kanye West, Forbes
In the interview he also hinted at a potential campaign issues, coming out as Pro-Life, citing his belief that that “Planned Parenthoods have been placed inside cities by white supremacists to do the Devil’s work,” promised an America-first foreign policy plan, and stated a distrust of vaccines, which he called “the mark of the beast.” He also made convoluted remarks about the country’s need to heal from racism, claiming that he’ll use Black Panther’s fictional African country “Wakanda” as a framework. One constant throughout his scattered plans, though, is Christianity. He constantly makes references to salvation, and even stated, “God appoints the president.” His most recent album “JESUS IS KING” was marked by this kind of religious dogmatism, receiving mixed reviews from critics and almost unilateral disapproval from fans. West is bringing this religious energy to his presidential run, with his announcement calling to “realize the promise of America by trusting God.”
Despite the fanfare over West’s supposed candidacy, he still does not appear to have filed the paperwork necessary for a presidential run, according to Billboard. Though he still has time to actualize his late-stage announcement, Ballotpedia notes that he has already missed the deadline to be included on the ballot in at least six states. This, of course, does not prevent voters from casting write-in votes, though West would still need to submit the necessary forms to make those write-ins count.
“I don’t know if I would use the word policy for the way I would approach things. I don’t have a policy when I went to Nike and designed Yeezy and went to Louis and designed a Louis Vuitton at the same time. It wasn’t a policy, it was a design.” – Kanye West, Forbes
CNN recently ran an op-ed from Dean Obeidallah, who calls for West to end his campaign, drawing parallels between West and Trump. He writes, “We aren’t at an MTV awards show. Nor are we living in a time where West could be seen as fun distraction. Rather, we are living in dangerous times that demand thoughtful, informed leadership — not another celebrity fueled by his own ego to get attention.” How far Kanye West will take his presidential run is anyone’s guess, but if 2016 was any indication to how seemingly unserious candidates can find success, it’s worth paying attention.
*UPDATE: Since this publication, The Hill reported that West has qualified to appear on the presidential ballot in Oklahoma, the first state in which he made the deadline to file. TMZ also reported that he has filed his first form with the FEC, though he is still missing the crucial second form. A source, however, told ET that “Kanye isn’t planning to run in the 2020 election after careful consideration,” contradicting another source who stated, “[West] changes his mind constantly, but fielded documents in case he decides to move forward.”