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Does Kanye's candidacy for the US presidential election really make sense?

nss asked Francesco Costa, vide-director IlPost and expert on American politics

Does Kanye's candidacy for the US presidential election really make sense? nss asked Francesco Costa, vide-director IlPost and expert on American politics

On July 4, 2020, during the American Independence Day - a holiday that much of the African-American community does not recognize, preferring Juneteenth instead, the day the end of slavery is celebrated - Kanye again announced his candidacy for the White House, also for 2020, while also receiving the support of Elon Musk. It was August 31, 2015 when Kanye West announced - for the first but not last time - his candidacy for the White House for the 2020 election. Things have happened to Kanye and the White House since that announcement: Ye was first hospitalized for a mental breakdown, then came back announcing an unexpected support for Donald Trump, who had since become the President of the United States.

Despite being instantly picked up by the media around the world, the news of Kanye's candidacy for the presidency is, most likely, non-news

To date, no Kanye Omari West is registered with the FEC, the U.S. Federal Election Commission that regulates campaign finance legislation. Hunter Schwartz, a former CNN reporter, noted that it is too late today to submit an independent candidacy in as many as seven states (including some very important, such as Texas). In fact, of course, Kanye's candidacy should be submitted by an independent, having virtually and physically concluded the primaries of both the main American political parties, the Democratic and the Republican. 

No one knows what Kanye's political ideas might be: from supporting Trump to his famous and unhappy exit on slavery, from supporting ASAP Rocky's release to Kim Kardashian's social battles, we've rarely had the chance to hear from Kanye's mouth his few, and confused, political ideas. Until few weeks ago, the only exception was an interview with Charlamagne tha God, in which he defined his eventual political platform as "a Trump campaign with Bernie Sanders principles". Then it came the long interview with Forbes, where Kanye expressed many controversial opinions, really close to the ones of the ultra-conservatives. 

But if Kanye's candidacy for the 2020 election is, practically, impossible, is there anything we can learn from this? With this premise nss magazine interviewed Francesco Costa, vice-director of Il Post and author of the book This is America, as well as the journalistic project Da Costa a Costa. Costa is one of Italy's leading experts in American politics, and the following is a conversation about the history and principles of the U.S. system that starts with Kanye but ends in more certain and probable speeches. 

From the beginning: what does it take, besides a tweet, to run for president?

Surely we need to have a political committee. Of course, it is the political committee that campaigns, so a candidacy involves a whole bureaucratic part of which it is part of to form the committee, to hire people - that is, consultants, officials, strategists - to take care of the campaign. Some at the central level but then also at the local level, people on the territory, someone who organizes the rallies, meetings and everything in between. 

Are there any examples of "extravagant" nominations that have managed to gnaw at democratic or Republican candidates? And what kind of nominations were: crazy what would this possibly be like, or more series?

The most famous nominations, in recent times, as independents are two. That of Ross Perot, who ran in '92 and then in '96 by subtracting a few votes from Bush. Perot was an entrepreneur, a sort of prototype of Donald Trump: so very rich, very populist, evidently right-wing however devoid of the apparentness of Trump. In 1992 he took about 20% of the vote, in '96 much less, drawing mainly on the conservatives and thus weakening the position of George Bush father. The other famous candidacy in recent times is that in 2000 of Ralph Nader, an environmental activist who took very little - around 4/5%. The 2000 election had been a special election, the Florida recount, decided by very few votes, so you can think that Nader was somehow decisive. 

But it was two "real" campaigns, announced at least a year before the vote, with a political committee in all states, with one candidate doing three rallies a day in different cities of America, with election ads. They were two election campaigns that, however losers - because today, in fact, an independent candidate cannot win in the American system - had major political consequences. 

Kanye's would be the most striking example of a celebrity's candidacy. In recent days, Reagan and Schwarzenegger's candidacies have been talked about as other examples of nominations for people without political backgrounds. But the two weren't exactly Kanye when they applied...

Even Trump if we want to is a celebrity lent to politics. Fame is a very powerful weapon because it allows a person, in a country that is bigger than China and where 320 million people live, to be recognized, not to have to present themselves to Americans as novice politicians. The point is, are you known for what? Reagan and Schwarzenegger were two actors, two successful people, and the roles they had played had given them a certain image that they then exploited in the election, even if that was a fictitious, fake image. This is very good for Trump: Trump is an entrepreneur who is not particularly wealthy by American standards, especially not at all successful. Trump has bankrolled bankrupts, bankrupts casinos, he's not a successful entrepreneur by any standards today. He is a real estate developer like so many others. Having done "The Apprentice" for 10 years, the hit reality show where he taught others how to do business, for 10 years he was able to enjoy a television broadcast that gave him an image of the ruthless, unscrupulous, efficient businessman who was not his, but which he used a lot, because Trump in the election campaign presented himself as the Trump of The Apprentice. Celebrity is therefore a big vehicle of political popularity, but what has Kanye built in recent years, an image that can bring him advantages from a political point of view? An image of efficiency? Creative ideas to solve complicated problems? Celebrity may be important, but it depends on what you're famous for. 

Kanye has never shown real political activism, except when I go against George W Bush for the handling of Hurricane Katrina and recently for the proximity to Trump, from which he then broke away. When the game of guessing who Kanye might steal votes from began, on the one hand there were those who said that he would undoubtedly take them away from Trump, why the Candace Owens of this world would vote for him and support him, and those who said that he would certainly take them away from Biden, taking away all the votes of African Americans. 

How fair is it, to date, to represent black voters as a single monolithic bloc?

If so, the Democratic Party nominee would always be black, because African Americans largely vote for the Democratic Party - not because they're all center-left but because it's the only party that listens to them. Yet the Dem party candidate has only been black once. Then, that a piece of that electorate might be attracted to a different candidacy than Biden's, because demographics, by themes, by age, can be there. Just as there may be that Kanye West - because he expressed words of support for Trump, as well as supporting him in a reform of American prisons with his wife - could take votes away from there. The point is that voting for a character like Kanye would somehow be a protest vote, as it was for Trump. This election does not seem to me to be a protest vote, with the pandemic, the worst economic crisis in a hundred years. Those who vote are motivated by more "earthly" demands than the protest vote. So, Kanye or not Kanye, I don't think this election round will feature a protest vote.