Kanye West is running for president and is on the ballot in some states. While his campaign is essentially non-existent, his political efforts have been supported by Republicans with the blessing of Trump. While this might strike some as odd, enabling Kanye is a clever strategy. The various lawsuits brought on his behalf seem to have caused some delays in the finalizing of ballots—and Trump is pushing to force a short deadline on the election. What is most important for the Republicans, however, is that Biden will lose votes to Kanye where he is on the ballot. While Kanye will probably not get many votes, it could be enough to either allow Trump to win certain states or make the election results close enough to allow Republicans to contest the results. As such, Kanye could help win the election for Trump. Kanye does not seem to be being used by the Republicans—he is on board and is presumably gaining from this in some manner. While one could discuss Kanye endlessly, my focus will be on two critical points that Kanye’s run move into the spotlight.
The first is the matter of having a viable third party. While the United States does have numerous political parties, they are all but meaningless in terms of holding offices—the Democrats and the Republicans rule America and voting is largely a matter of deciding between the donkey and the elephant. Somewhat ironically, the third parties seem to often hurt themselves by focusing on the presidential races. They expend considerable resources that might have fueled victories at the local level—it would make more sense to build up to a presidential run rather than start there. One possible solution, that has been suggested by others, is for third-party candidates to stop running for president for now. Instead, they should focus on building political influence at the local and state level. Once the third-party holds a meaningful number of local and state offices, then they would have a more realistic chance at the presidential level. To use an analogy, third-parties tend to be a bit like amateur sports teams who insist on going up against the pro teams in the big games. They need to be more practical and build their team in the minor leagues of local and state government.
The main impact of a third-party run is usually to cost the Democrats (or Republicans) the election by pulling away votes. This tends to generate anger and bad feelings towards the third party and perhaps the notion of third parties in general. This is another reason why serious third parties should consider staying out of the presidential races until they have a viable national party.
Kanye’s Birthday Party will simply repeat this pattern: he could have used his resources in local elections where he or a Birthday Party candidate might be able to win and, if he is serious about politics, he could have started constructing a viable third party that might be a contender at the presidential level in 10-30 years. While he is polling at about 2% among black voters, that could be enough to help Trump win.
While it might seem silly to talk about Kanye West or someone else creating a viable third party, the two dominant parties of today do not date back to the founding of the country, thus showing that new parties can and have arisen to replace the old. So, the idea of a successful third-party emerging is not absurd. That said, such a party would face two formidable cash-infused monsters who control the machinery of the state. While one party might see an advantage in a third-party that damaged their rival, both parties will join forces in bipartisan unity to defend their shared lock on politics from a third party that seems able to hurt them both. Because of this, any third-party would face an uphill battle. But not an impossible battle. I do not think that Kanye is the one who will build a serious third party that has the patience to build over the years—but I could be wrong. Now, to the second matter.
Kanye has famously made the claim that “To say that the Black vote is Democratic is a form of racism and white supremacy.” While I disagree with the hyperbole of the claim, he does raise an important concern. Think of Joe Biden’s statement: “Well I tell you what, If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” This does seem to reflect the view of the Democratic establishment—they often take the black vote for granted perhaps because African-Americans have consistently voted for (post Southern Strategy) Democrats. This is not to deny that Democrats have done positive things for black Americans—but they have also done bad things (like the 1994 crime bill). There is also the fact that black Americans might feel that the Democrats are taking them for granted—and how people feel is immensely powerful in politics.
Somewhat ironically, though, the Republicans often accuse the Democrats of being too focused on race (and gender) while they also accuse them of taking black voters for granted. These two claims can be reconciled—one could argue that the establishment Democrats are superficially focused on identity politics but are doing poorly when it comes to substantial matters that impact many black Americans because they are confident they can get by just by being less bad than the Republicans.
This does seem to be generally true: the establishment Democrats are social liberals but are not as different from the Republicans as they claim when it comes to the core issues of the system. To illustrate this, while the Republicans cast Kamala Harris as some sort of radical socialist, Wall Street likes Harris. They know that she is an establishment Democrat and will keep the economic system running as usual—she is no threat to capitalism as it exists. She might put up some safety tape around the sharper edges but the underlying machinery will be untouched. Under Obama, Wall Street did great—many of their number ended up in his administration and Wall Street got many sweet deals. In retrospect, people examining the legacy of Obama have often concluded that at best Obama failed to deliver transformational changes. As such, it is reasonable to say that the Democratic Party has not delivered for most black Americans. It has also not delivered for most Americans—but it has done well by the wealthy. True, it is not as bad as the Republican Party—but that is a very low bar.
Black voters are in the same general bind as all other American voters: there are currently only two viable parties. Under Trump, the Republicans embrace or at least tolerate white supremacy. The Democrats (post Southern Strategy) appear to oppose white supremacy—so the Democrats are probably seen as the lesser of two evils. As long the Democratic establishment knows that the only other choice for black voters is the Republican Party, they just need to do enough to appear slightly better than the Republicans—which is an exceptionally low bar.
If black voters who would otherwise vote for Biden decide to not vote or to vote for Kanye (or someone else) as a protest against the Democratic establishment, then this means that Trump is more likely to win and Trump seems objectively worse than Biden for most black Americans (and most other Americans). Such protest voting (or the threat to do so) also seems unlikely to sway the Democratic establishment—unless it is organized and publicized so that the establishment is forced to recognize and address it. Thus, the risk of protest voting is that the voters will be worse off and gain nothing. That is, Biden will lose, the white supremacists will continue to have their best friend in the White House and the Democratic establishment will not change.
In closing, this can also tie back to the third-party matter: if a viable third-party started organizing and building, it could appeal to black voters (and other American voters) and earn their votes. The Democrats and Republicans would need to do things to win them back (or engaged in misdeeds to destroy the third-party) and this would be good for voters. I do not think Kanye’s Birthday Party is a serious political party that he intends to build into a viable option—but this is something he should do. Or at least help do. Americans need more choices, and the Democrats and Republicans need real competition.
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