Kanye West as the Republican nominee for president in 2024, or any other year, sounds absurd. But then so did the words “President Trump” before 2016. West really could become the new Donald Trump, and here’s how he would do it.
Like Trump, West would be wise to run as a Republican, for the simple reason that the GOP is in much more flux than the Democratic Party. It’s not as rigid—in fact, it’s downright wild. Anything can happen.
The math is straightforward. West has the same advantages that Trump started out with in terms of name recognition and built-in support. His fans are very different from GOP’s grassroots base, but that would be to the party’s advantage in a general election. Just as Trump could win Rust Belt states that had been out of reach to Republicans since the end of the Reagan era, West has a shot at winning a greater share of millennials and blacks than other Republicans could win. The margins matter: swinging even a relatively small sliver of the other party’s supporters over to your side makes a critical difference in elections as close as modern presidential contests have become.
West can’t beat Chelsea Clinton in the general election unless he wins the Republican nomination first, of course. And how is he going to do that? Trump invested heavily in building up institutional credibility among conservatives years before his run. He plied conservative groups with donations and made personal appearances at events like CPAC. West would have to do likewise. Trump was not obviously an ideological conservative, and West isn’t either. But Trump was a symbol of New York capitalism, which perhaps bought him some conservative esteem. Would West’s hip-hop roots have the same appeal? One shouldn’t rule it out, actually, despite what the left might believe about Republican racism. The GOP has had little trouble embracing the occasional rock star or rock-rap performer—a Ted Nugent or a Kid Rock—so why not West? Kid Rock was well positioned to become the GOP’s Senate nominee in Michigan this year, before he chose not to run.
Trump demonstrated that “issues” don’t count for as much in GOP primaries as experts long believed. They count for something, though. What conservative issues could West possibly embrace? Tax cuts are an easy one: West’s personal interest here coincides with the GOP’s ideological tilt. Indeed, West could quickly gain credibility with the GOP base by showing that is following the same trajectory as Ronald Reagan, whose experiences with Hollywood’s liberals and the heavily progressive tax code of the postwar era turned him from a Franklin Roosevelt Democrat into the standard-bearer of conservatism. (George H. Nash, the great historian of the American intellectual right, tells the story of Reagan’s odyssey in fascinating detail in the Spring 2018 issue of Modern Age, the quarterly journal I edit. DM me @toryanarchist, Kanye, and I’ll send you a copy.)
What about the really hot emotional issues, though, such as gun control and immigration? How would West handle those? He might begin by teaming up with another hip-hop star with a mind of his own, Killer Mike. The Run the Jewels rapper is a Bernie Sanders supporter, which makes him far from a Republican, yet no easy fit for the Democratic Party’s establishment, either. Mike came under criticism for appearing in an NRA video earlier this year, in which he said, “I think that the worst thing African Americans have done in the last 60 years is marry ourselves to a political party and a political ideology.” There are plenty of black Americans who feel the same way, including when it comes to the ideology of gun control. The NRA has a lousy record of late, unfortunately, for standing up for black gun owners’ rights. But there is a coalition to be built here by a leader willing to take the risk. Likewise on immigration, the working-class Americans who tend to get hurt worst economically by illegal and low-skill legal immigration are blacks. They also have many of the same concerns as “deplorable” whites about the cultural consequences of too much immigration happening too quickly.
There are a good many forward-thinking chieftains of the Trump movement—though the left and the Never-Trumpers would have you believe such people don’t exist—who see tremendous gains in bringing Trump’s themes of economic nationalism and America First to black voters. For decades, Bush-style Republicans dreamed of winning over blacks with social-conservative values, and such efforts mostly came to nothing. Hip-hop nationalism may fail, too. But it hasn’t been tried, and Kanye West could give it a serious test.
“Give Bannon a call, Yeezy.”?