[Note: Thanks to all of you commenters for creating the only original content on this site for the past four days while I was in the hospital (see this morning’s Discussion Post for further info on that). I am home now and will resume creating original content of my own on Friday morning. But until then, enjoy this guest piece by the great Larry Schweikart on the potential for a 2024 presidential matchup between The Rock and Kanye West.]
Guest piece by Larry Schweikart
As some of you know, more than a year ago I was asked—assuming Trump won reelection—who would be his successor in 2024. I guess I stunned the host when I answered “Kanye West.” And I then added, “I guess his opponent would have to be a similar type celebrity, say Dwayne The Rock Johnson.”
So far, Kanye has not inspired confidence in his political abilities. He started his independent run so late as to miss out on key states such as Florida and Texas; his team staggered into the Wisconsin offices to register 17 seconds too late and were denied; and DemoKKKrat legal, but dirty, tricks kept him off the Arizona ballot. In short, these are the traits of a pure amateur and an unserious candidate. That is not to say he can’t reform himself and build a machine for 2024, but it is to say that he looked like the early days of the New Orleans Saints when fans wore bags over their heads (instead of masks).
Kanye may have said he would be president, but he has a long way to go to make that happen, not the least of which would be to convince millions of conservatives he isn’t crazy and can stay on his meds. But the bigger story here is The Rock, because his endorsement of Joe Biden “could be” a step into the 2024 ring.
Just as I thought Kanye would be formidable for a host of reasons, so too is The Rock a candidate not to be dismissed if he chooses to make a serious run.
The shifts in the American political structure since 2008 are stunning to anyone really paying attention. This is about far more than Donald Trump and Barack Obama. What has occurred is nothing less than a transformation of the American electorate and how they view leaders.
Obama opened the door. He wasn’t a full blown celebrity like Trump—who had no political or military experience when he declared (making him the first in history to do so). Obama, however, had served both in state office and in the U.S. Senate . . . more or less. His lack of time actually present in the chambers was remarkable, and his penchant for not sponsoring any meaningful legislation fit right with his presidency. That is to say, he was a lazy pol. With a 2/3 majority of each house, all he and the Democrats did in two years was a seedy “stimulus” bill and Obamacare. What is even more remarkable is that while passing these two great white elephants, Obama managed to unelect over 1,200 national, state, and local Democrats. He almost single-handedly cleaned out the last remaining “moderate” pro-life Democrats in the House. Not that we shed any tears for any of this, only that given all the power, political capital, and good will he had, Obama probably did less in eight years than Calvin Coolidge did in five.
But you have to give him credit: Obama was probably the first true “celebrity” president. He learned how to use his “first black president” label to maximum extent for campaign purposes, so much so that Hillary Clinton—the anointed “first woman president”—fell by the wayside.
Donald Trump, however, took the celebrity element to a whole new level. Trump ran a campaign in which he scarcely needed to do ads. Virtually all his advertising was handled free by the media, even if the coverage was often critical. Trump could get 100 reporters to cover a rally; Hillary had to coax aging rock and rollers like Bruce Springsteen to do benefit concerts for her.
We have seen repeatedly in races for the U.S. Senate (Jim Renacci in the 2018 Ohio race, for example) or the House where unknown candidates spend most of their time and virtually all of their money getting that precious name recognition. We caught a glimpse of the power of celebrity in the 1994 House races where an NFL wide receiver (Steve Largent), a former star quarterback at the University of Oklahoma (J.C. Watts) and a former rock star (Sonny Bono) all won their races, as did a well-known and popular Phoenix-area disc jockey (J. D. Hayworth). While clearly celebrity status only gets you part of the way, it is an important leg up on the competition.
The Trump model suggests that the approach to a candidacy may be changing. American demographics and education suggests that celebrity status will become more important than ever. While virtually anyone under 40 knows who Kanye or The Rock are, few can name the vice president of the United States or their senator. When it comes to getting out the vote, a celebrity will have powerful advantages.
Which brings me back to Kanye and The Rock. Celebrity is important, but it is not sufficient to win, especially at the presidential level. Donald Trump had learned more about business, finance, and trade in three decades as a builder than most of the members of Congress have in a lifetime of voting on pork projects. Both Kanye and The Rock are smart businessmen. Kanye has had a number of successful clothing ventures, and, like Trump, has had some failures, including a restaurant chain. (Restaurants seem to be one of the biggest sources of failures for athletes and celebrities. Think “Planet Hollywood.”) The Rock, on the other hand, has taken a wrestling career and merely become the #1 box office star in Hollywood—at least until it closed due to the China Virus. In part, he did that by keeping his mouth shut about politics, and thereby attracted an audience from both parties. Now, however, he has drawn a line.
The challenges moving forward are these: for Kanye, he must begin a long and dedicated effort to show that politics is not a hobby, but a God-directed purpose. Many of his supporters, especially those of the Christian community, desperately want him to succeed now. But he cannot ever again undertake such an amateurish, half-baked, lightweight “campaign” as what he launched in 2020. If he can right himself by, say, 2023 and has developed a strong track record of public appearances without a meltdown, sound policy proposals, and the ability to move among crowds of middle-aged white people who are repelled by rap music and still make a connection, then he has a future. Indeed, I could envision a certain Donald Trump endorsing him . . . if he pulls it together the way Trump, after 2012, pulled his political act together.
As for The Rock, he is formidable. Should he take politics seriously, he can likely get most of what he wants. He has a winning smile, a reputation for toughness in and out of the ring, a (so far) stable family history, a good personal story, and sex appeal. Conservatives should not discount him any more than liberals should blow off a reformed and dedicated Kanye. In a race between the two, it would absolutely be a tossup.
Larry Schweikart is the co-author with Michael Allen of the New York Times #1 bestseller, A Patriot’s History of the United States, author of Reagan: the American President, and founder of the Wild World of History curriculum website for homeschoolers and educators with a full US and World History curriculum for grades 9-12 that includes teacher guides, student workbooks, maps/charts, tests, and videos accompanying every unit (www.wildworldofhistory.com).
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