Kanye West stepped up his 2020 US presidential election campaign this week by releasing his first advertisement, posting the video ad to Twitter.
Having established himself as one of America’s most renowned musical artists, and marrying into the famous Kardashian family, Kanye West originally signalled his intention to run for president in 2015, at the same time as Donald Trump.
More recently, Kanye has been in the news for his struggles with mental health, and also a born-again conversion to Christianity that shaped his latest album Jesus is King. He has also voiced strong opposition to abortion and to a sexualised culture that he confesses he helped create in a past life.
In the end, Kanye joined the presidential race late this year, meaning that most of his focus thus far has been on ensuring his name will actually appear on ballots throughout the country. He’s had success in twelve states — and in his recent campaign video, he asks voters in the remaining states to pick him as a write-in candidate.
Kanye’s campaign has of course been laughed off by many. And although the rapper insists he is running to win rather than just disrupt other campaigns, disrupt other campaigns he most likely will: Joe Biden’s especially.
Democrat presidents in recent decades have attracted some 90% of the Black vote, and analysts tip that a Biden victory would be near impossible without a similar level of support from African Americans this year.
But that’s far from a given. And even legacy media concedes this.
Politico has written about “How young black voters could break Biden — and why Democrats are worried”. Writing for The Guardian, Benjamin Dixon ponders, “Joe Biden needs Black voters. So why does he keep insulting us?” And NBC warns that “Despite polling lead, Biden still has work to do with Black and younger voters”.
Given Kanye’s profile and popularity in the African American community, he will draw Black votes away from someone. With voter enthusiasm for Trump continuing to outstrip Biden’s, and more raw-numbers Black votes for Biden to lose, Kanye’s campaign will surely hurt Biden the most.
Buoyed by favourable polls, Biden’s campaign staff are hopeful of winning back key rustbelt states that swung to Trump in 2016 — in particular, cities like Detroit, Milwaukee and Cleveland. But according to The Detroit News this week,
Interviews with more than 60 Black local elected officials, religious leaders, grassroots organisers and voters in visits to all three cities reflect a shakier situation — one where there is often little enthusiasm among African American voters for Biden.
The Detroit paper noted that the enthusiasm detected among Black voters was not so much for Biden but against Trump. Interviewees expressed little familiarity with Biden or his campaign platform; those who did were apprehensive about Biden’s record on criminal justice, and his now-retracted comments about African Americans voting as a monolithic bloc.
CNN recently highlighted challenges that the Biden campaign has faced in reaching potential African American voters as a result of the pandemic. For six months, Biden halted in-person events, and this resulted in low visibility in church congregations, local communities and door-knocking drives — all of which are historically viewed as keys to a campaign’s success.
Where Biden has struggled with the undecided and uncommitted in these communities — votes that he desperately needs — the very same people may just be enticed by Kanye to head to the polls.
If Kanye succeeds as a disruptor, he will do so on an interesting platform.
While police brutality, the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement have been major themes in much of the African American community during 2020, Kanye chose not to mention these issues in his first ad (though they do appear on his campaign website).
Instead, he has been fanning the flames of spiritual revival in America. Each of his ten campaign promises, for example, is coupled with a Bible verse, such that the first reads:
1. Restore faith and revive our constitutional commitment to freedom of religion and the free exercise of one’s faith, demonstrated by restoring prayer in the classroom including spiritual foundations.
“We will not hide the truth from our children, but will declare to the next generation His praises and wonder.”
— Psalm 78:4
In his video ad, Kanye declares:
We as a people will revive our nation’s commitment to faith. To what our Constitution calls the free exercise of religion, including of course, prayer. Through prayer, faith can be restored. We as a people are called to a greater purpose than ourselves…
We will build a stronger country by building stronger families. Families are the building blocks of society. Of a nation. By turning to faith, we will be the kind of nation, the kind of people God intends us to be.
How Kanye’s platform will resonate with voters will become clear in November. One thing is evident: like Trump before him, Kanye is a political outsider and a self-made billionaire — and therefore he won’t be bought by the powers that be. And perhaps that will prove his best asset as a disruptor in the month that remains.