Pro-Trump activists are fuming after Kanye West’s announcement that he’s “distancing” himself from politics, with the blame falling on two right-wing personalities—Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens—who fellow conservatives say used West to push their personal brands at the expense of the conservative movement.
“They really over-grifted that situation,” said Lucian Wintrich, a former White House correspondent for Gateway Pundit.
Both Kirk, the founder of the campus conservative group, and Owens, Turning Point’s director of communications, saw their profiles skyrocket in the mainstream after West tweeted that he liked “the way Candace Owens thinks” in April.
Owens became a sometimes-member of West’s crew, appearing at his record-release party and in full Yeezy apparel at TMZ’s office, where West infamously said slavery was a choice. Meanwhile, Kirk, whose image as an ambitious young conservative has struggled to gain ground outside of the 65-and-over Fox News viewer set, got a wardrobe boost from West, who gave him a pair of his Yeezy 700s sneakers.
Along the way, Kirk and Owens rarely missed an opportunity to mention their connection to West. But Owens apparently went too far for West on Saturday, when she announced a Turning Point “Blexit” campaign aimed at convincing black voters to leave the Democratic Party.
Owens initially claimed that West had been involved in the campaign’s merchandise, telling the New York Post that the bright colors on its T-shirts and the campaign’s logo—a black figure with its limbs outstretched to form an “X”—were “created by my dear friend and fellow superhero Kanye West.”
That appeared to be a step too far for West, who took to Twitter on Tuesday to claim he had never been involved in the logo’s creation and “never wanted any association with Blexit.” West said he was “distancing” himself from politics in the aftermath of the T-shirt saga.
“My eyes are now wide open and now realize I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in,” West wrote.
West’s exit from politics set off a flurry of despairing messages in internal group chats used by young conservatives, who were watching their party lose one of its last prominent voices over a dispute about T-shirts.
“Today was a setback for everybody,” activist Ali Alexander, who advises a PAC bankrolled by the wealthy pro-Trump Mercer family, told his fans on a livestream.
Kirk, Owens, and Turning Point didn’t respond to requests for comment.
A prominent young conservative who asked not to named, to avoid hurting his career in the conservative movement, told The Daily Beast that West had been hugely helpful for Republicans—and that he blamed Owens and Kirk for West’s retreat from politics.
“They burned Kanye for clicks, clout, and fame,” he said.
Owens apologized to West and Trump in a statement Wednesday, saying she was to blame for the T-shirt fight. But she urged people to continue supporting Blexit, saying that it was “an orphanage of thought for free-thinkers.”
Much of the backlash has centered on the Blexit campaign itself. Everything about Blexit, from its awkward name to the ’90s style of its logo and shirt colors, has come up for criticism.
“It’s just completely cringe,” Wintrich said.
There are also questions over whether Blexit is redundant in light of the already prominent “#Walkaway” movement, which also encourages traditionally Democratic voters to switch parties.
In one more bad turn for Turning Point, an unrelated group also called Blexit, which bills itself as an “economic disruption organization,” is threatening legal action. Me’Lea Connelly, the founder of that Blexit, told The Daily Beast that her attorney has sent Turning Point a cease-and-desist over their use of the name.
Right-wing figures who had long predicted that embracing West would backfire for the right, including commentator Ben Shapiro, saw West’s tweet denouncing Owens as proof that they had been right all along to warn about embracing the mercurial rapper.
The West setback has been aggravated by the fact that both Turning Point and Owens have a history of making enemies on the right.
Fox News’s Tomi Lahren, an Owens foe, jabbed at her rival on Twitter. Owens shot back by calling Lahren a has-been, and threatened to release messages from Lahren that she claimed would “have ended her non-career.”
Without West, conservative activists expect that Turning Point, which has already been beset by controversies over some racist members and clashes with other campus conservative groups, will take a hit to its relevance.
“They have to think of another strategy,” a journalist at a conservative outlet in Washington told The Daily Beast. “They need another endorsement.”
Wintrich predicted that West’s alienation from Turning Point would have a “terrible ripple effect” for the larger world of pro-Trump personalities, scaring celebrities away from working with conservative activists in the future.
“So we lost Kanye. I guess we’ll make do with Scott Adams and James Woods,” Wintrich said, referring to the Dilbert creator and Casino actor, respectively, who have both become prominent Trump supporters on Twitter.