Roll over, Hillary Clinton, Yeezy’s got designs on the top job
Mail & Guardian | News & Media 2015 | Lauren Gambino
“It would be unusual for someone to go directly from celebrity status to running for president”
Kanye West has famously likened himself to Jesus, Pablo Picasso, Steve Jobs and even Walt Disney. Perhaps the only ascent left for the ambitious and outspoken rap artist, producer and fashion designer is the Oval Office.
West announced his decision to run for president in 2020 during his acceptance speech for a video award at Sunday night’s VMA show, after admitting that he had “smoked something” before his speech to knock “the edge off”.
“I don’t know what I stand to lose after this; it don’t matter though, because it ain’t about me, it’s about new ideas, bro, new ideas. People with ideas, people who believe in truth.
“And, yes, as you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president,” West said, and dropped the mic.
But making the leap from rap superstar to president of the United States in the next four years has its challenges, even for West.
“It would be unusual for someone to go directly from celebrity status to running for president,” said Richard Skinner, a professor of political science at George Mason University. “Most of the people who have done that have started off from a lower-level position.”
Ronald Reagan, an actor from the 1930s to the 1960s, was the governor of California before he ran for president. Comedian Al Franken was elected to the Senate before he floated the idea of running for president. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, who can never be president because he is not a natural-born United States citizen, built himself up as a prominent Republican in Hollywood before running for, and being elected, governor of California.
Skinner said West was not a particularly political celebrity, and that it was not even obvious which party he would run for. A public records search shows that West registered to vote in the state of New York in 2013, though has not declared a party affiliation. Nonetheless, the Democratic Party was quick to welcome him.
Perhaps the most political moment of West’s career so far came in 2005, when he criticised George W Bush for the government’s delayed response to Hurricane Katrina. During a Katrina benefit telethon, West made headlines for his declaration: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
During the 2014 midterms, West said he would support the Democratic Party after he and his wife met President Barack Obama before the elections, and asked his millions of Twitter followers to do the same.
“If it’s a pure Trump-type candidacy, then he’s just a rich guy running for fun,” Skinner said. “But if he seriously wants to do it the way other celebrities have pursued political careers, then he might want to try speaking out on issues, might want to try to get more politically active before he actually runs.”
West set himself a target date of 2020, rather than 2016, perhaps to avoid potential problems at home, seeing that his wife Kim Kardashian West has already posted a selfie seen as showing support for Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
The Wests paid $2 700 each towards her campaign and in 2012 Kanye donated $1 000 to the Obama-supporting political action committees.
Meanwhile, fans are preparing. Obama’s famous “Hope” posters are circulating with West’s face above the slogan “Yeezy” – his nickname, based on his self-appellation (and first album title) Yeezus. (Yeezy is also the name of the sports shoe he designed.) A “Ready for Kanye” committee has been registered with the Federal Election Commission.
“I think Kanye West would be a great leader for this country,” said Eugene Craig III, who registered the PAC. “Personally, I would like to see him seek the mayorship of Chicago before running for president. But, in an age when we’re taking Donald Trump seriously, I think we could absolutely take Kanye seriously.”
Craig cited West’s criticism of the public school system and his calls to end the war on drugs. He said one of West’s most lucid lines during his recent onstage rant was when he said: “We’re not gonna control our kids with brands.”
“He’s anti-corporatism while still being a person that understands the power of entrepreneurship,” Craig said.
Craig, too, isn’t sure what party West would run for, though he’s hopeful he would be a Republican. “I don’t think there’s a better way to reach out to young minority voters than to bring Kanye West into the fold of the Republican Party,” said Craig, who is the chairperson of the Young Minority Republican Fund.
Yeezy hopefuls have set up a countdown to the big day at Kanye2020.com, and Ian Cioffi, a libertarian activist, has snapped up the URL KanyeWest2020.com and redirected it to LibertyFest NYC, an annual event that invites speakers from across the political spectrum.
So, will the boundary-pushing artist truly run for president?
“Imagine if Da Vinci or Michelangelo or Galileo were asked not to think of anything except for the one thing they first became famous for,” West once asked. “So Da Vinci could only have one idea?”