Don’t take Kanye West seriously or literally — yet

True, Donald Trump is president, so everything is technically possible. But as tempting as it is to follow West down his rabbit hole — or to his Wyoming ranch — the best way to treat his latest pronouncement is as a late-summer diversion rather than a serious presidential campaign.

The first barrier to West 2020 gaining momentum is legal. West is entering the race in the middle of filing season. The deadlines for getting on the ballot in large states like Illinois, New York and Texas have already passed, and the deadline in Michigan is fast approaching. Unlike Trump, who built a campaign during the primary and took over the GOP’s existing machinery in the general election, West is starting from scratch in the middle of the race. In theory, he could still build up a political organization and get on the ballot in states across the country, but in practice, that seems unlikely. According to reporting from CNN, as of Saturday he hadn’t even registered with the Federal Election Commission, a basic requirement for running for president and fundraising.

Even if West were to get on the ballot in the states where that’s still possible, his road to the White House would be difficult. U.S. politics are highly polarized: Both Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Trump have strong bases within their own parties, and fear of the opposition will likely keep most voters in their partisan homes.

Others have suggested that, given West’s prior friendliness with Trump, West’s goal is to play the spoiler: that he’ll get on ballots across the country, siphon off young voters and African Americans from Biden and allow Trump to win by focusing on his base. But that also seems far-fetched.

As others have pointed out, many of West’s biggest fans aren’t the young African American men who would be West’s political targets in this scenario. According to 2018 YouGov survey, 21 percent of Hispanics and 20 percent of whites had a favorable view of West, while only nine percent of African Americans did. As Forbes’s Andrew Solender recently pointed out, views of West have also polarized as he’s cozied up to the president: 34 percent of Republicans and 13 percent of Democrats view him favorably.

Favorability and fandom aren’t the same thing, but these numbers support what many have seen anecdotally: A lot of West’s biggest fans are white, and a West candidacy wouldn’t exclusively attract African American Democrats.

Moreover, recent history suggests that simply being African American isn’t enough to win black votes. In the 2020 Democratic primary, African American voters passed on charismatic black candidates with real presidential credentials (such as Cory Booker and Kamala Harris) and instead supported Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg.

As Ted Johnson of the Brennan Center for Justice has argued, many African Americans view elections pragmatically: They’ll vote for the candidate who is most likely to get into office and deliver policy victories on civil rights and other key issues. West — a long-shot third-party candidate with a history of controversial statements on race and a whole host of interests other than politics — doesn’t fit that bill and might have trouble gaining traction with big segments of Biden’s African American base.

None of these obstacles are insurmountable: West could build an organization quickly, find a new strategy and shock the world. But that seems unlikely. The laws of political gravity, as well as literal election laws, apply to Yeezy, just like they apply to the Donald. If West is putting together a campaign organization in the days to come, we should start to take his run more seriously. But until then, we’ll need to find a more durable pandemic distraction to sustain us for the months to come.

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