In the fall of 2018 I was on a speaking trip to New Mexico. On Brandon Vogt’s radio show, I was asked who I thought would be the successor to Donald Trump, assuming he won reelection in 2020. Vogt nearly fell out of the chair when I said “Kanye West.”
But my conclusion he would be (by 2024) the natural, perhaps ideal, candidate wasn’t just an off-the-cuff capricious answer. I had given this a lot of thought. First, it can be argued that Barack Obama was the first “celebrity” president. True, he was a “traditional” politician, coming up through the ranks of the crooked Illinois system, then being whisked into the national spotlight with a speech. By the time he ran for president, however, it was all about the show. He was the “first black presidential candidate” (as the Hoax News media conveniently forgot Jesse Jackson and Alan Keyes, to name two). Obama and his team treated his candidacy as a celebrity event, dwarfing the hapless and corrupt John McCain on social media. Obama’s nomination acceptance speech was nothing but show-biz, with Greek columns and the “Voice of God” reverberation. Almost none of his younger and/or black supporters knew anything he stood for or anything he claimed to believe. He was a “young,” “hip,” black guy so he was the natural choice.
But as much as Obama—or Zero, as I nickname him for his utter lack of achievements—tried to be a celebrity president, he still had too much of the Chicago School in him. And I don’t mean the one renowned for Milton Friedman! In most ways Zero was a typical politician, except he didn’t work nearly as hard as most other presidents. Thank God.
Enter Donald John Trump in 2015. Here was a true non-politician celebrity. He was better known by many voters as the “guy on the Apprentice” than as the successful real-estate developer that he was. Certainly he carried his well-earned playboy reputation from the New York dating scene. He had help found a football league, and in a giant splash signed star running back Herschel Walker (now, by the way, a supporter of him as president). Trump was the first true celebrity president. With no political background whatsoever, he wasn’t corrupted by K Street the way most were, and he didn’t come with baggage of compromises as a senator, governor, or congressman. His very entrance down the Trump Tower elevator was show biz.
Trump has in many ways continued to govern like a non-politician celebrity. He has not changed his language or communication one iota, speaking in everyday common words and phrases rather than the stultified and phony “Washingtonese.” In pure Page Six style, he doesn’t hesitate to duke it out on Twitter with attackers. His flair for the “show” was evident in his campaign when Steve Bannon convinced him to roll out four of the Clinton women who had been maltreated by the Slickmeister. During his presidency, the Celebrate America military parade and events at the monuments was the essential Hollywood production.
The key to the new presidency is name recognition. American education has so destroyed reading, cognitive, and critical skills that traditional advertising just won’t work. Nor is there a willingness to explore platforms or issues. Rather, a name people recognize will be the single most important factor behind voter registration in deciding a vote. We saw this in 2018 in the Ohio Senate race, where Jim Renacci as an unknown spent his entire campaign trying to generate name recognition to compete with Democrat Sherrod Brown. Renacci lost by a whopping 6 points, despite a less-than-popular Mike DeWine winning the governor’s race by more than three points. That is largely a ten-point swing based solely on name recognition of a less than stellar Brown.
Based on these factors, I theorized that only someone with massive name recognition could even consider running for president in 2024, and that for the Republicans, that someone would have to be a solid Christian. Again, without the ability to filter through platforms, the view voters have of a candidate will be based on statements and attitudes they have seen before the campaign.
For that reason, Kanye was distinctly appealing. A rapper who has become a vocal and highly public born-again Christian, a businessman who has branched out into clothing lines and restaurants, and an entertainer who produces and performs large public Christian events, Kanye checked many of the boxes. Moreover, given Trump’s steady and, now, undeniable appeal into the black community (getting between 15% and 28% black approval in most polls for over four years), there is a new segment of blacks who perhaps are unwilling to commit to being a “Republican” but who would vote for Trump in much greater numbers than in 2016. Kanye would almost certainly appeal to a share of that segment. (Not all because many are more mainstream conservative in their attitudes, if not their previous voting history).
To me, Kanye was the only celebrity who could be called “conservative” in his public statements who would have such appeal. I not only expected him to plan to run—as per many of his comments prior to yesterday—but to plan to win. Kanye West will not be on the ballot to “make a point.” But then I was taken by surprise by Kanye’s announcement of running for president in 2020. Certainly he knows he won’t beat Trump. As an independent, certainly he knows he won’t even carry a single state.
So why is he running?
Upon reflection it makes perfect sense. Kanye, despite obvious strengths, has several significant weaknesses to be appealing in 2024. As mentioned, he lacks any political experience at all. Getting on ballots, mounting some sort of campaign based on issues, organizing a campaign team, learning the discipline of multiple public appearances a day—these are all things Kanye has never done before. While he has had his share of music critics, political critics are different in that they question your very right to exist as a challenger to a Democrat.
A 2020 run will prepare West in ways no apprenticeship for four years ever could. Moreover, by running now to get experience, he will (when he loses) have a natural lowered expectations that won’t be there in 2024—the real deal. My guess is (though he is mercurial) that he will keep his criticism of Trump quite muted and focus on “unity” and “Christian principles” so that in 2024 he can gain Trump’s endorsement for the Republican nomination.
IF he’s serious. I think he is. I believe he believes God has chosen him to run.
Many of the criticisms of Kanye from Republicans/conservatives are valid. Many can be addressed by a competent political campaign. Two of the biggest are his history as a rapper (whose marriage began with a pornographic web video) and his battle with mental illness. To the first concern, Trump has already flattened or reduced many of those barriers, while at the same time showing what a commitment to Christ can do to change a life. (Maybe not every aspect of life, but the ones that matter most). Kanye will have four years to demonstrate this.
The bigger issue, and one not to be taken lightly, is his history of bi-polar disorder. But again, two factors are working to minimize this.
First, we are continually learning about previously concealed medical or psychological deficiencies of previous presidents. Today, for example, most people know Abraham Lincoln was a manic depressive; that James Buchanan was likely a homosexual; that Grover Cleveland was absent from the office entirely during a secret cancer surgery; that John Kennedy was on amphetamines and had Addison’s (a fatal) disease. Bi-polar disorder, if medicated, would seem to be no worse than some of these afflictions.
Second, over the past 40 years mental illness of all types has become normalized. It is seen as near-bigotry to claim that someone is incapable of doing a job because he has Autism, depression, or any other number of mental health issues. Our normalization works in Kanye’s favor.
For 2020, though, many are asking, “What will be the impact?” How will a run by Kanye as an independent play in the race? The reaction from Democrats tells you all you need to know: they are terrified. Already Joe Biden (Demented Perv Biteme) was only pulling 74% black support in polls. That is a 50-year low, and Hillary lost with 88% black support. Biden was likely to see an erosion of actual black vote combined with black stay-at-home of somewhere between 15-17% this time around, which is a death sentence for a Democrat candidate.
Now with Kanye? I would not be surprised to see Biden’s share of the black vote fall to under 50%; to see Trump increase to 11-13% black vote (combining actual votes for Trump and stay-at-homes as a “half vote”); and see Kanye get 30% or more.
In short, for Trump, Kanye, and the USA this is a win/win/win.
Larry Schweikart is the co-author of the NYTimes #1 bestseller, A Patriot’s History of the United States with Michael Allen; author of Reagan: The American President; and founder of the Wild World of History historical website with full high school history curriculum in US and World history (www.wildworldofhistory.com).
That is all.
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