What Kanye West needs to do if he really wants to be US president
Capturing the White House in 2020 could be a tall order even for the towering ego of West, who has hitherto made few forays into politics
Kanye West has famously likened himself to Pablo Picasso, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and even Jesus. Perhaps the only ascent left for the ambitious and outspoken rap artist, producer and fashion designer is the White House.
West announced his decision to run for US president in 2020 during his acceptance speech for a video award at Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards 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, bruh, 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,” says Richard Skinner, a professor of political science at George Mason University in the US state of Virginia. “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 the big job. 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 US citizen, built himself up as a prominent Republican in Hollywood before running for – and being elected – governor of California.
Skinner notes that West is not a particularly political celebrity, and that it is 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 then-president George W. Bush over the government’s delayed response to hurricane Katrina. During a charity telethon, West made headlines with his declaration: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
During the 2014 midterms, West said he would support the Democratic party after he met Barack Obama ahead of 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 says. “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 in order to avoid potential problems at home, seeing as his wife Kim Kardashian West has already posted a selfie perceived as expressing her support for Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
The Wests paid US$2,700 each towards her campaign to attend the function where the picture was taken, and in 2012 Kanye donated US$1,000 to two events set up to support Obama.
Meanwhile, fans are preparing for Yeezy to move in to the White House. Some have joked his famously enormous ego would not allow him to pick a vice-president, leading to a “Kanye-Kanye 2020” ticket. Obama’s famous “Hope” posters are circulating with West’s face above the slogan “Yeezy”, and a “Ready For Kanye” political action committee has been registered with the US Federal Election Commission.
“I think Kanye West would be a great leader for this country,” says Eugene Craig, who made the registration. “Personally, I’d 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 notes West’s criticism of the public school system and his calls to end the war on drugs. He says one of West’s most lucid lines during his Sunday night 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 claims (though many would disagree with West being anti-corporatism).
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,” says Craig, who is the chairman of the Young Minority Republican Fund.
Yeezy hopefuls have set up a countdown to the big day at Kanye2020.com, and Ian Cioffi, the libertarian activist who snapped up the web address, has directed 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?”