Rapper and hip hop star Kanye West has announced that he will join the U.S. presidential race in November, a move that would in theory position him as a challenger to incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival and former Vice-President Joe Biden. Mr. West has earlier alluded to having presidential ambitions, including when he explicitly indicated, at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, his interest in standing for elections in 2020, and in November 2019, when he spoke about a bid in 2024. Nevertheless his latest declaration — as a vague Twitter post to “realise the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future” — is a bolt out of the blue considering that Mr. West is a self-confessed admirer of Mr. Trump, has no known formal party affiliation or comprehensive policy agenda, and would have to scramble to file the paperwork necessary to get on to the ballot in the less than four months left to Election Day. Little surprise then that his announcement has elicited more confusion than enthusiasm, barring the case of Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk who promised Mr. West his “full support”. Even in the country that has seen a movie star, Ronald Reagan, rise to the highest office in the land, the idea of a rap artist with zero political experience entering the Oval Office must appear far-fetched to many Americans.
There are two interpretations of this odd turn in the presidential campaign. The first relates to a question of tactics. Given the visible West-Trump bonhomie, is it far-fetched to reason that within the campaign Mr. West may serve as an undeclared surrogate for Mr. Trump, perhaps attracting to his campaign significant numbers of undecided or independent voters, even some of minority groups? This might not be so hard to achieve if Mr. West stood for election and, just before November 3, stood down in favour of Mr. Trump, effectively muddying the waters for Mr. Biden. The second is that the age of anti-intellectualism appears to be nearing its zenith in American politics. It is a well-worn adage in the U.S. that people vote based on a candidate’s personality and not their politics. It marks a new phase for this trend if, at this dark hour of racial hatred, physical and economic insecurity on account of the devastating toll of COVID-19, and an accelerating slide in the U.S.’s position as a global leader, the voting American populace is seriously considering placing its faith once again in a property mogul who shot to fame as the star of a reality TV show. The 43-year-old musician with no more than occasional incoherent ramblings to his credit in the field of politics is not the only alternative, however. It is just as well that there is another candidate in the fray.