On July 4, Kanye West tweeted that he was running for president. It was treated as one of his typical grandiloquent pronouncements. The tweet sparked a lot of opinion pieces, cable news segments, and even a question in an Oval Office interview with Donald Trump. But most people brushed it off. In a follow-up interview with Forbes, West pledged, if elected, to run the White House like the nation of Wakanda from Black Panther. That remark seemed to reinforce the notion that this was just a lark. After all, West had previously compared himself to figures varying from God to Willy Wonka without attempting to establish the Kingdom of Heaven or manufacture an Everlasting Gobstopper.
But this time may — at least for a moment — be different. According to multiple campaign professionals who spoke with Intelligencer, West took early steps last week toward getting his name on the ballot in Florida and other states as a third-party candidate running against Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, July 8, around the time West tweeted and deleted an image of a fetus at the six-month mark of gestation with the caption “these souls deserve to live,” I was connected with a source who had been approached to work for the rapper’s presidential campaign. The source, who asked not to be named, was a political operative who had experience in this kind of work. I was extremely skeptical — but after talking with this person and others, I was convinced that West (or someone close to him) was at least toying with a real-life plan to build a campaign operation.
The source had been approached about going to Florida on West’s behalf to help gather the signatures needed to make the ballot in the state by the July 15 deadline. This person was offered $5,000 for the week’s work. In order to qualify for the ballot in the Sunshine State, West would need to gather 132,781 valid signatures from Florida voters in less than a week.
On the morning of July 9, TMZ reported that West’s family was concerned that the billionaire rapper was suffering a bipolar episode based on his presidential aspirations. The well-sourced tabloid website added “our sources say his family and those close to him are worried, but they believe things will stabilize as they have in the past.”
Later that day, I talked to Steve Kramer. He is a get-out-the-vote specialist who runs a firm that also helps candidates get on the ballot. Kramer, who has worked mostly for Democratic candidates but has also had some Republican clients, told me that he had been hired to help West get on the ballot in Florida and South Carolina. He added that his understanding was that West’s team was “working over weekend there, formalizing the FEC and other things that they’ve got to do when you have a lot of corporate lawyers involved.”
The signature-gathering process was described as ongoing, and Kramer said “we had overwhelming support to get him on the ballot.” He added, “Whether anybody is going to vote for him or not is up to them.” Kramer described the effort as including both paid and volunteer efforts to get signatures. “They got a lot of people who they’ve got both on their volunteer side and their contracted side,” said Kramer.
This all seemed real enough, and I reached out to West’s publicist for a response. The initial response was to loop in another spokesperson on the email. West’s team then went dark. As I waited for a response, I followed up with Kramer who told me, “He’s out.”
I asked what happened. “I’ll let you know what I know once I get all our stuff canceled. We had over 180 people out there today,” Kramer said.
About an hour after that exchange, West posted a video on Twitter of the rapper registering to vote for the first time at the county clerk’s office in Cody, Wyoming. The video started with West telling the audience, “I want to show you how I just registered to vote.” It then displayed the text “I thank God and I am so humbled at the opportunity to serve. Vote,” before showing West filling out his registration form. He then engaged in a brief conversation with a local official about felon disenfranchisement.
When I finally connected with Kramer on Thursday night, he was philosophical. “I have nothing good or bad to say about Kanye. Everyone has their personal decision about why they make decisions. Running for president has to be one of the hardest things for someone to actually contemplate at that level.” He noted the obstacles that a first-time candidate faces, and “any candidate running for president for the first time goes through these hiccups.”
Kramer noted that the staff he had hired were disappointed not just because they would be out of a job, but because they were excited about what a Kanye West campaign represented.
On Friday, West tweeted a text-message exchange with radio host Charlemagne Tha God, a song by Kid Cudi featuring Eminem, and a handwritten note captioned “YEEZY SOUND ROSTER PROPOSAL.” Meanwhile, the deadline to get on the ballot in Nevada passed.
It may not happen this year, but certainly West could run for president in the future. Donald Trump flirted multiple times with a presidential bid before his now infamous descent down the golden escalator in 2015. West’s ambitions to be a presidential candidate should probably be taken more seriously than his ambitions to be Willy Wonka.
Update: On Wednesday July 15, Kanye West officially registered to appear on the ballot as a presidential candidate in the state of Oklahoma. A public affairs officer for the Oklahoma Board of Elections told New York that a representative for West showed up at the Oklahoma Board of Elections with a properly executed statement of candidacy and the $35,000 filing fee.