Kanye West announced over the weekend that he intends to launch a late, long-shot bid for the presidency, a run that would pit him against President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. It’s not the first time ‘Ye has said he wants to take a shot at the highest office in the land, but the July 4 tweet appeared to be his most serious effort yet to throw his MAGA hat into the ring.
Said Ye in his Independence Day announcement: “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future.”
The attempt is quirkier still given the fact that West has ardently voiced his full-throated support for Trump in the past and proudly worn his red Make American Great Again cap. There’s also the not-unimportant detail that his entry into the race comes at a late stage in the more than year-long thinning of the large herd that was the Democratic hopefuls.
“It’s certainly the latest I can remember … because third-party candidates usually try to get in early and get on the ballot in all the states,” Robert Y. Shapiro, Wallace S. Sayre Professor of Government and Professor of International and Public Affairs in the Columbia University Department of Political Science, tells Billboard about Ye’s late registration.
The rapper’s sudden entry also raises a number of questions for Shapiro about motivation. There’s suspicion that it could be a public relations stunt to draw attention to the artist in the absence of any stated political agenda or cause that West wishes to support.
More important, Ye — who has not revealed details about what, if any, political organizing he’s done to launch his bid for office — has missed the filing deadline to appear on the ballot as an independent candidate in at least six states, according to Ballotpedia. Among those are such crucial states as New York and Texas, as well as North Carolina, Maine, New Mexico and Indiana.
There are also deadlines in the next few weeks to make it on the ballot in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Ye’s home state of Illinois, his adopted third home state of Wyoming, Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Utah, Pennsylvania and a handful of others.
“If West were serious about this, he would have had to have started a long time ago,” says John Mark Hansen, political science professor at the University of Chicago, noting the missed and pending deadlines to get on ballots. “Some allow payment of a filing fee, but most require petitions, which can involve thousands of signatures. That’s a lot of door to door and shopping center parking lots. He’d better get busy!”
Shapiro says that, superficially, it’s not a terrible time for a Black candidate to jump into a race while the country is in the middle of the current state of protest and upheaval unleashed by the police killing of George Floyd. With a built-in audience of millions and high name recognition among a key younger, urban demographic, West makes up in visibility and reach what he lacks in public policy and political experience, a profile that is not unlike his friend Trump’s pre-presidency.
That said, Shapiro speculates “this isn’t a serious bid.” But he added that even if it’s a stunt, there are some political implications if it’s a close election, and Kanye is able to siphon off votes from either major party candidate and disrupt their political process. Typically, Shapiro says, third-party candidates know they have little chance of winning, but they run in an effort to draw attention if not to themselves, then to a cause they believe in.
“To that extent that voters will vote for third-party candidates, given that this is perceived as an important election, even disgruntled voters might not be willing to throw their vote away,” Shapiro says.
Mike Muse, host of The Mike Muse Show on SiriusXM and co-host of Sway in the Morning, called the West run back in 2015 when he wrote a piece for CNBC titled “Kanye For President? If Trump can do it…” In it, he argued that America’s disdain for the same-old, same-old generic politicians and a thirst for candidates who are “raw and uncensored” could make for the perfect lane for Ye’s non-traditional candidacy.
A spokesperson for West had not returned requests for comment at press time.
With a new single “Wash Us in the Blood” from the as-yet-unscheduled album God’s Country, a collab with Ty Dolla Sign (“Ego Death”) and a newly announced deal with The Gap, Muse speculates that West certainly has a lot to promote, even if he lacks the governmental, military or higher-education bona fides most candidates have brought to the game pre-Trump.
“There was a time when someone with a background like Kanye or Trump would have been dismissed, or just put in gossip magazine columns, but times have changed and Americans are open to considering alternatives,” Muse tells Billboard. He also pointed out that even political commentary has taken on a glossier entertainment sheen to keep up expectations in the fast-paced, clapback-focused social media environment. “The thing about Kanye is you never know what the point is of what he’s doing until it becomes realized.”
And, keep in mind, Muse says, a lot of people were dismissive of former reality star and real estate magnate Trump, who had no political or military experience before his surprise 2016 win. “Kanye is a mirror to society of what they are frustrated with and the change we want,” he says. “For me, the lesson is not so much, ‘Is this candidacy real or not?’ but rather, ‘What is it saying about America that we are even giving this a thought?'”
Even if America still seems to be looking for a non-traditional candidate to shake things up, Muse says from a practical perspective, West doesn’t appear to have any infrastructure in place to make his run a success, including staff, a public get-on-the-ballot push or even an announced party affiliation. That said, if West is serious, Muse says it’s possible he could latch on to a smaller third party that already has a slot on the ballot and get permission to run on their ticket.
“Even if we disagree with the manner or the person delivering the [statement], they can get their point out to a larger audience and add their version of political discourse to the conversation,” says Muse. “In the end, it’s not about whether Kanye’s campaign is valid or if it’s a stunt, but about what it says about the broader narrative that we are even giving it our consideration.”