How Real Is Kanye West’s Presidential Bid?

Kanye got the attention he wanted, but is he serious about running for president? With help from an election expert, here's a breakdown of Kanye's bid.

Kanye West

Image via Getty/Samir Hussein

Kanye West

Kanye West celebrated the Fourth of July by dropping a bomb on Twitter: “I am running for president of the United States! #2020VISION.”

This isn’t the first time Kanye has talked about running for president. Five years ago, he announced his intentions to run for office during the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards. And he’s spoken about a potential campaign frequently over the past few years, even divulging some of the issues he would address as president.

Still, Kanye’s latest announcement about a presidential run stirred up plenty of conversation over the weekend. His tweet—arriving just four months before the election—racked up over a million likes within 24 hours, his name trended No. 1 on Twitter, and he received co-signs from public figures like Elon Musk.

He got the attention he wanted, but is he actually serious about running for president?

Like most people who have been closely following Kanye West’s career over the years, I have suspicions about his real motivations for sending the tweet (more on that later), but I can’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of presidential campaigns, so I called up an expert. Nathan L. Gonzales is the editor and publisher of Inside Elections, which is a nonpartisan publication that covers House, Senate, gubernatorial, and presidential campaigns. He’s been covering campaigns for nearly 20 years, and he has a clear understanding of how campaigns like this actually work. 

“Right now, this is not a campaign,” Gonzales says of Kanye West’s July 4 announcement. “This is a tweet about a potential campaign. Running for president is more than a tweet and even some television ads. I mean, there are things you have to do to actually run for president. There’s an infrastructure you have to have in place, and the infrastructure is working against him. The timeline is working against him. And that's even before we get to the question of if there's even an electorate who wants him to be president of the United States.”

“Right now, this is not a campaign. This is a tweet about a potential campaign.” -Nathan L. Gonzales

For Kanye to actually become an independent presidential candidate, he needs to go through a series of formal steps, including registering with the Federal Election Commission, presenting a campaign platform, and collecting signatures from voters. So far, it appears he hasn’t done any of these things.

“Unless you are a Republican or a Democrat, it is difficult to get your name on the ballot,” Gonzales notes. “The barriers are higher. You have to gather thousands of signatures from registered voters in individual states in order to make the ballot, and that's hard. That can be overcome with money and time, but he doesn't have that much time right now. I mean, the deadlines have passed in six states.”

Kanye has already missed the deadline in six states: North Carolina, Texas, New York, Maine, New Mexico, and Indiana. And, as journalist Daniel Nichanian points out, he faces an uphill battle in the remaining states. In California, he would need to collect 200,000 signatures in 30 days. 

Gonzales notes that there is a precedent for presidential candidates to pop up this late in the race, but they haven’t fared well. “In 2016, Evan McMullin tried to run a late third-party bid,” he recalls. “He announced in early August, and I think he made the ballot in 11 states, This is early July, but there’s no indication that [Kanye] is following up the tweet with a serious campaign.”

If Kanye decides to take his campaign more seriously and puts some money behind it in the coming months, he’ll need to take the appropriate steps to legitimize the presidential bid. If he doesn’t, he could face legal consequences.

“The first thing he would need to do is file with the Federal Election Commission,” Gonzales says. “If you raise or spend more than $5,000 on a campaign, you need to file with the Federal Election Commission, because there are rules on how much money you can take from individuals to contribute to your campaign. And if you want to give yourself money for the campaign, you have to go through these official channels. You also can't use corporate entities or other businesses to prop up your campaign. If he doesn't get the right legal counsel, he could quickly run afoul of federal election law because he can't use his business entities to promote a presidential campaign without going through the proper steps.”

Regardless of how seriously Kanye is actually taking this campaign, there is concern that it could legitimately impact the 2020 presidential election regardless. If voters are unhappy with the option of choosing between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, will they write in Kanye West’s name and take away valuable votes from either party?

“Watch to see what his next steps are. If Kanye is serious about running, he will be forming an official committee and putting things in place to become a serious candidate.” - Nathan L. Gonzales

Since the July 4 tweet, there have been theories flying around the internet that write-in ballots for Kanye West would primarily take votes away from Joe Biden, which would help ’Ye’s old buddy Donald Trump. Gonzales stresses that Kanye is an especially complicated candidate, though, and this way of thinking is oversimplified. A Kanye presidential run could affect the race in a number of other unpredictable ways. He also makes a point to say, “I want to be careful because I don't think he's a serious candidate yet, so I'm reluctant to go too far in the hypotheticals.” 

However, Gonzales does admit, “If this is an incredibly close race between Trump and Biden, then everything matters. Third-party candidates matter. The weather matters. Can people vote? Is it safe? So there is a scenario in which you could blame a third-party candidate for an outcome—whether that’s blaming Ralph Nader or Evan McMullin or Kanye West or whoever. There’s always the blame.” Then he reminds me, “But there’s a temptation to boil down close races to one single factor, when, in reality, there are hundreds—if not thousands—of factors going on at the same time.” 

One gets the sense that if Donald Trump—another celebrity candidate who was dismissed by many as a longshot—didn’t become president, we wouldn’t be paying as much attention to Kanye’s tweet as we are right now. It seems impossible that someone who recently made a statement as misguided and dangerous as “slavery was a choice” could actually become president, until you remember who is currently sitting in office. Gonzales says Trump’s 2016 path would be extremely difficult for anyone to replicate, though. And if Kanye wanted to do it, he would have needed to begin much earlier.

In the coming weeks, Gonzales suggests: “Watch to see what his next steps are. If Kanye is serious about running, he will be forming an official committee and putting things in place to become a serious candidate.”

He adds, “Right now, he is a serious artist, but he is not a serious candidate for president. It is going to get a ton of attention, though.”

That is the most important point to focus on here. Kanye West has always been a master at attracting attention to himself, and he did it again with a single tweet on the Fourth of July. At this point, it seems very likely that this was more of a ploy for attention than an actual presidential bid.

Let’s not forget that we’re only a week removed from the announcement of Kanye’s next album, God’s Country. For over a decade, Kanye has made a habit of suddenly reappearing on Twitter before every album rollout and getting involved in some kind of controversy. Before the release of Ye, he wore a MAGA hat and proclaimed that he and Trump shared “dragon energy.” Now, before the release of his 10th studio album, he emerged again with a splashy announcement about a presidential run of his own. Both times, he got exactly what he wanted: attention.

“He knows how to get attention, and he knows how to use that attention to his advantage,” Gonzales says. “Maybe that's something he has in common with the president.”

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