Kanye West’s Perplexing Run as a Potential 2020 Spoiler
Kanye West wants to bring back prayer in schools, give more government support to religious groups and has even asked his campaign staff to refrain from “fornicating” outside of marriage, according to people aiding his candidacy.
Mr. West, the billionaire hip-hop artist and fashion mogul turned Christian revivalist, is not running for president, but “walking,” as he puts it. He entered the race late and is not going to make the ballot in states including Florida, Texas and Michigan, but he will be on the ballot in others like Colorado, Minnesota and Iowa. Some Democrats fear he could be a spoiler, even if his political appeal is minuscule. Third-party candidacies don’t need that many votes to make an impact, as Jill Stein showed in 2016 and Ralph Nader in 2000.
In calls and texts with The New York Times, and in other recent comments, Mr. West made clear he believes he will become president — eventually — but said almost nothing about what he actually wanted to do if elected. Indeed, Mr. West’s curio candidacy has confused many fans and voters alike. His party is called the Birthday Party. His first piece of campaign art included pictures of that well-known populist Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, and of the actress Kirsten Dunst, who was puzzled. (“What’s the message here,” she tweeted, “and why am I apart of it?”)
An inescapable element of Mr. West’s candidacy is his bipolar disorder, which he has spoken about in the past. His wife, Kim Kardashian West, opened up about it for the first time days after Mr. West’s only campaign appearance, in South Carolina, during which he broke down crying. Writing on Instagram, she called him a “brilliant but complicated person” who has to deal with “pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bipolar disorder.”
Because a variety of allies and supporters of President Trump are working on the ground to advance his campaign, many Democrats view his candidacy as a dirty trick by Republicans, a notion Mr. West has rejected. Still, in a year in which the president is working to undermine confidence in the election, Mr. West’s candidacy is one more point of uncertainty. And many Republicans, including Mr. Trump, appear confident he will siphon votes from Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, though his appeal could be blunted by some of his conservative positions.
Mr. West has a bare-bones platform, focusing on general objectives like reforming the police, reducing household and student loan debt, and “restoring prayer in the classroom,” with each point reinforced by a bit of scripture. In discussions, the topic he brought up most was his opposition to abortion. He does not, however, want to ban abortion.
“You can’t do that,” he said in a phone call. “I don’t want to ban or stop or point fingers at anything.” Instead, he said he supported “stipends for families that need support, creating orphanages that are really high-level desirable for people to go to, and the redesign of communities and cities in general to be supporting of families.”
He didn’t elaborate on his views on other issues when asked, saying at one point that he had an album to finish.
On Wednesday, Mr. West renewed questions about his behavior after tweeting a video in which someone appeared to urinate on a Grammy statuette; referring to himself as “baby Putin”; and, in a tweet that was removed by Twitter, posting the phone number of a top magazine editor whom he called a “white supremacist.”
A number of consulting firms are aiding his candidacy. Mercury Public Affairs, a prominent bipartisan New York political consulting firm, played an organizing role, though the firm was dismissed last month and was reluctant to discuss the matter.
“Our role was limited to helping the campaign get started up, primarily by helping to recruit a ballot access team and launch that effort,” said Michael McKeon, a partner at Mercury. “For a short time, we served as a liaison between the campaign and the team until they established independent relationships. That happened weeks ago, ending our involvement.”
Mr. McKeon would not say why Mercury was not included in the companies that received disbursements in the West campaign’s recent filing to the Federal Election Commission, which showed that Mr. West had lent the campaign nearly $7 million.
The filing showed that Mr. West had also brought on both a Republican-oriented firm, the Atlas Strategy Group, and a Democratic-leaning one, Millennial Strategies, to help get him on the ballot. Millennial, however, bailed out after less than a month on the job, shortly after his South Carolina appearance, during which he said that Harriet Tubman “never actually freed the slaves” and that “she just had the slaves go work for other white people.”
Several Republican operatives were subsequently revealed to be aiding efforts to get Mr. West on the ballot, including Lane Ruhland, an election lawyer who has worked for the Trump campaign in Wisconsin; Rachel George, a Republican consultant in Colorado; and Atlas’s Gregg Keller, the former executive director of the American Conservative Union.
Third-party candidacies, of course, can influence the outcome of an election. While a Morning Consult/Politico survey last month of 1,983 registered voters nationwide found that Mr. West had the support of only 2 percent of them, presidential elections in some states have been decided by less. In 2016, Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton were separated by fewer than 23,000 votes in Wisconsin, where the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, won close to 107,000 votes.
“Winning the presidency can come down to a razor-thin margin in a single or handful of states,” Steffen Weiss, the managing director of research science for Morning Consult, said in an email. “Any independent candidate on the ballot in a battleground state, Mr. West included, could be consequential in an otherwise close race.”
Mr. West first called a Times reporter for this article on Aug. 11, close to midnight on the East Coast but a couple of hours earlier in Cody, Wyo., where he lives. He had just tweeted, “I’m willing to do a live interview with the New York Time about my meeting with Jared,” referring to a recent meeting he had with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, that The Times had inquired about.
During the call, Mr. West was upset and insisted on a live interview on Zoom, demanding that the editor of The Times be present as well, to which the Times reporter demurred.
“I’m Kanye, who are you?” Mr. West asked, adding, “I’m the head of everything.”
He also expressed anguish about abortion, said he didn’t reflexively support Democrats, and asked, “Does anyone at your magazine believe in Jesus?”
During a series of follow-up texts, Mr. West sent a video commentary about his candidacy from Mike Cernovich, a far-right activist, and also denounced a founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, as “an avowed racist” — she was recently disavowed by the group over her support for eugenics. He also sent myriad statistics about abortion rates among Black women, noting that they are higher than those for other ethnic groups, though the gap has been narrowing for years as abortion rates fall.
“Do you see abortion as the main reason you’re doing the presidential campaign?” he was asked in reply.
“How do these facts make you feel?” Mr. West texted back. “As a person.” “???”
Mr. West was later asked what he saw “as the purpose of the presidential campaign.”
“Do you have children” he asked in response.
“One of them has many of your albums on vinyl and plays them very loud,” the reporter told him. (“Lovely,” he replied.)
The next day he was asked: “with any candidate for any office, I ask – what is it you would actually do?”
He sent a handwritten outline of his plan to build an idyllic “eco-village” called Birthday Lake, which he later tweeted. Mothers could “safely experience pregnancy & birth” there, and children could be cared for afterward. He would not say if he envisioned the government building such places.
On another day, Mr. West was asked to react to two common questions about his candidacy: Why is he running in 2020, since he is too late to get on the ballot in every state? And is he being exploited by Republican operatives?
“Praise God for you” he texted back. “I’m finishing my album and I’m not answering questions this morning.” He added, “The first question is incorrect as I am already on some ballots,” using an emoji with a slight smile.
The Times put similar questions to John Boyd, a music manager who is an adviser to Mr. West, specifically asking why the performer was entering the race so late in the process.
“That’s you and I, the way we look at time,” said Mr. Boyd, who was with Mr. West in South Carolina.
“Kanye doesn’t look at time like that,” Mr. Boyd added. “For him, any time is a good time. He doesn’t look at time the way we look at time. For him, it probably wasn’t even an issue. That’s my humble perspective. If it were me, I would be thinking about — it’s too late, or this, or that. But that’s me. I’m not Kanye.”
Mr. West offered further detail during a recent interview with Nick Cannon, the actor and podcast host, in which he was dismissive of Mr. Biden, and said: “Let me tell you who’s the most racist, the liberal racist. When a white person can tell me you’re going to split the vote, better not step past the line, boy.”
He also said his political aspirations would not end in 2020.
“The reason why I know eventually — eventually could be three months, eventually could be three and a half years — the reason why I eventually will make a great president is because I’m sensitive,” Mr. West said. “I’m here to serve. Even as a Gemini, I feel the energy in the room, I read body language, I read this energy, and I hurt. I hurt for the country, I hurt not just Black people, but all people of America. And I hurt for all people of the world.”