Terry H. Schwadron
August 24, 2020
He won’t be among supporters speaking at the Republican National Convention starting tonight, but Kanye West is very much a blunt weapon in the GOP arsenal to strip votes from Democrat Joe Biden.
The strange third-party candidacy of entertainer Kanye West is not going particularly well, but he is on the ballot in Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Vermont and Utah and on track to join the ballot in Louisiana and perhaps others, all thanks to work by Republican political operatives collecting the necessary signatures even at this late date.
Not only does West have the ear — and actual meetings with Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and campaign adviser — but reporting has underscored that a number of Republican party workers and lawyers have been carrying the heavy water of trying to qualify to be on state ballots. West’s so-called Birthday Party narrowly failed to qualify for the ballot in West Virginia and Wisconsin, and has missed a needed Federal Election Commission deadline.
But the effort is a non-disguised effort to draw young, Black votes from Biden, under the thinking that even a few percentage points of change among those voters will help Trump’s re-election campaign.
Whether whatever conversations are happening between Kushner and West, and any work done by Republican officialdom on behalf of West are strictly legal is open to some interpretation.
To the degree that it has any chance of success, perhaps Kanye West ought to be spotlighted in the convention this week. But perhaps that would be putting too much light on what is passing as another election maneuver to try to win for Trump.
That the West campaign has proved rocky is beyond dispute, and its overall effect on the important battleground states may prove negligible at best. What interests me is to what degree the Trump campaign is officially or unofficially coordinating with West, or doing its organizing work.
Apparently, it is weird, but legal, for the higher-ups in a presidential campaign like Trump’s to talk with other campaigns, so long as money doesn’t get spent. The federal law outlaws more than $2,800, the normal election contribution cap per individual, to go to or from a third party — even if they are aligned in goal or message.
Jared Kushner acknowledges that he speaks regularly to West, whom he considers a personal friend. But we don’t know the content of those conversations and whether they reflect information that carries a value that could be measured like cash, reported The Washington Post.
Somehow, magically, simultaneous signature gathering campaigns have been run, legal challenges have been filed, documents have (or not) been filed. The work is not inconsequential. In West Virginia alone, there were more than 15,000 signatures collected, though fewer than half matched legal records. Several publications looking into the West campaign have reported the names of Republican Party staffers and lawyers as those doing the work.
In Vermont, Chuck Wilton, a GOP delegate to the Republican National Convention, was selected as a West elector. The rapper’s slates in Wisconsin and Colorado had a number of Republican activists, as well. Gregg Keller, the former executive director of the American Conservative Union, was the campaign’s point of contact when the rapper filed in Arkansas. In Wisconsin, Lane Ruhland, a lawyer representing the Trump campaign in court, filed on West’s behalf.
You might think that an alert Federal Elections Commission might be raising some questions about who is paying those people for their work. But then the FEC has been more directly concerned that West’s Birthday Party (if they win, we’ll all be celebrating as if it is a birthday, the campaign says), missed a required filing last week on whether West had raised or spent $100,000 on his campaign.
Despite the efforts on his behalf, West has been kept from ballots in Wisconsin (filing after the 5 p.m. deadline), and for lack of valid signatures in Illinois, Montana, Ohio and West Virginia. In Virginia, seven of 13 named electors whose names were submitted by West before the signature count, said they were unaware that they had been signed up.
Until he announced, recanted and re-announced his late presidential bid, Kanye West had been seen as close to Trump and has made a number of bizarre appearances with the President. He grew closer to Trump after his wife, Kim Kardashian West, worked with the President and top White House officials, including Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, on a couple of pardons.
In his first campaign event, West, wearing a protective vest, offered erroneous comments about Harriet Tubman and at one point broke down crying, prompting concerns about his well-being. And a few days later, his wife acknowledged West’s bipolar diagnosis and asking for compassion and empathy.
For those who want to know: West has a platform that advocates for the creation of a culture of life, endorsing environmental stewardship, supporting the arts, buttressing faith-based organizations, restoring school prayer, and providing for a strong national defense. He is anti-abortion, mostly, though he has slipped and supported abortion. He both participated in Black Lives Matter protests and decried over-concern with racism, supports legalization of marijuana, opposes the death penalty, and has concerns about any COVID-19 vaccine, with no evidence. He thinks we should return to farming, hydroponically, and backs America First, even though he favors working closely with China.
In the end, of course, we should be looking at this effort for what it is — a help to Trump through suppression of young, Black votes for Biden.