As it’s become clear that rapper Kanye West’s 2020 campaign is getting boosted by longtime GOP operatives, figures close to Donald Trump’s campaign and even the president himself have seemingly been delighted at the potential to “ratfuck” and spoil the election for Joe Biden.
But it’s not all champagne-popping in Trumpworld. Some Trump advisers have privately conceded that there is scant data to suggest that getting West on enough ballots would drain significant support from the presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee, and that doing so amounts to taking advantage of a man suffering from mental health issues. And even the president’s own pollster is warning that the maneuver could backfire.
“[It] could siphon from Trump Blacks who don’t like Biden,” John McLaughlin, a top pollster for President Trump, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday night. “Blacks who don’t like Biden in a two-way race would vote for the president. Now they might consider Kanye.”
In the past few weeks, West’s so-called campaign has gained steam in its effort to actually get the rap artist on the ballot in various states, including ones that could sway the election. The effort has come as Trump’s re-election prospects appeared to have hit their nadir amid the deadly pandemic, the crushed U.S. economy, and widespread racial and civil unrest.
The timing has led to speculation that West’s main objective is to play spoiler on Trump’s behalf.
And Trump, for his part, has done the bare minimum to dispel the theory.
“I think it’s good that [Kanye’s] voice gets out there. I actually think it’s fine,” he said in an interview with Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera on Thursday.
In recent years, West had repeatedly pledged his support to Trump and the president’s son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner has maintained a close relationship with the music icon.
Trump has denied having anything to do with West “getting on the ballot.” But Republican Party operatives across the country are clearly involved. A former top executive at the American Conservative Union is tied to West’s campaign effort in Arkansas, according to a New York magazine report. A lawyer who has represented Trump 2020 handed over signatures to get the rapper on the Wisconsin ballot, while another Republican operative is working to secure West a spot on Colorado’s.
At the heart of the attempt to boost West bid is a belief that Black voters—likely to vote for Biden—will be predisposed to support West’s candidacy squarely because of his skin color and fame. It’s a theory of the case that has drawn criticism for racist undertones. It’s also one that not everybody buys.
Seven sources in the president’s political orbit—senior administration officials, GOP operatives, campaign advisers, and individuals close to Trump—had some mixed reactions when privately discussing Kanye 2020 this week.
There were some who loudly applauded the budding GOP-connected dirty trick to pump up West’s bizarre run, thinking it is at least worth a try, if it somehow hobbles Team Biden in critical states. Several said West should be seeking professional help and support from loved ones, instead of embarking on a long-shot bid for the White House. Several people in the upper ranks of the president’s political operation said they were surprised by recent news regarding West’s campaign, and insisted that they weren’t aware of involvement from top Republicans or the president’s inner sanctum.
“Of course it’s a good idea,” Stuart Jolly, who served as national field director for Trump’s 2016 team, said of Republicans working to officially get West on the ballot this year. “The margins were small in states like Wisconsin [which Trump won] in 2016. Who knows how small they’re going to be this time around? If you’re a [Republican operative] who wants the president to win, more power to them.”
Jolly added, however, that he hasn’t heard from anyone he knows in Trumpworld about them working on any West effort.
In an interview with Forbes published on Thursday, West would not say who was spearheading his 2020 strategy and ballot access, though he did say he’s “designing a school within the next month” and that he’s “meeting with [Trump’s Education secretary] Betsy DeVos about the post-Covid curriculum.” Devos’ family is one of the largest funders of conservative causes and candidates in the country.
West also, according to Forbes, appeared reluctant to criticize President Trump while being happy to blast Biden. The news outlet said he “expressed comfort with the idea of doing damage to the former vice president’s White House chances.”
“I’m not denying it; I just told you,” West remarked.
On the Trump-supportive corner of the internet, West’s quixotic candidacy has so far been met coolly. While there was an initial burst of excitement in early July when West announced his plans to run, pro-Trump mememakers and personalities have mostly ignored West’s more recent ballot access wins.
Turning Point USA chief Charlie Kirk, a devoted Trump ally and West friend, hasn’t tweeted about West’s bid this month. Conservative personality Candace Owens, whose friendship with West launched her to a new level of fame until she wrongly claimed West had designed a logo for her “Blexit” movement, also hasn’t publicly backed his run.
As a pop-culture event, Kanye’s 2020 bid would seem like ripe material for Trump’s online “memesmiths.” But so far, they’ve stayed largely silent. At TheDonald.win, where Trump fans from “The_Donald” subreddit regrouped after that forum was banned from Reddit, posts about West receive few upvotes and rarely break through to the frontpage. On the social media network Parler, a Twitter alternative popular with Trump supporters who have been banned from more prominent social media platforms, hashtags about West’s bid have earned only a few hundred mentions.
One of the few exceptions to West’s lukewarm reception from online MAGAland has been Ali Alexander, a pro-Trump internet personality who has long promoted West’s political potential. Alexander, who briefly enjoyed some notoriety during the Democratic primary after accusing Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) of not being an “American black,” has accused Democrats of racism for opposing West’s run.
“Kanye West is offering people a choice,” Alexander tweeted on Wednesday. “You don't own our votes.”