This week, President Donald Trump came to Michigan to ask for our votes in an election that’s now less than 50 days away. But Trump didn’t come to Michigan to campaign to undecided voters. At no point did he make any discernible attempt to have an honest conversation with Michigan voters about issues and policies that affect their lives. Instead, Trump’s superspreader grievance tour touched down in Saginaw on Thursday night.
The president urged his supporters to show up at polling places to confirm their absentee ballots had been counted, a move intended to both call the results of the election into question and to encourage his supporters to intimidate other voters at the polls. This wasn’t the first time he made such a ridiculous request — he’s been repeating it since his rally in North Carolina earlier this month where he told attendees to “vote twice in the November election.” But as the president continues to push people to trust only an election result in his favor, it is worth looking into why Trump is so sure he’ll lose an election fair and square, and why Michigan could hold the key to ridding our democracy of its greatest threat since the Civil War.
Michigan played an integral role in handing Trump the keys to the White House in 2016. Whether or not the swing state was legitimately up for grabs isn’t the question – of course it was. While most polls consistently showed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton with an edge in the state, it was close to the margin of error as the election drew close. How Trump managed to come out of that night with Michigan’s sixteen electoral votes should serve as a cautionary tale in 2020. His margin of victory was less than the number of votes received by minor candidates. Former President George W. Bush proved in 2000 that all you need to win a close election is a spoiler.
While the president of the United States is a world–renowned idiot, he has some politically-savvy minds working to muddy the electoral waters in his favor. “I like Kanye very much,” may seem like a strange thing for Donald Trump, a candidate for the presidency, to say about Kanye West, a “candidate” for the presidency. Why would a candidate like Trump, a man whose reputation is literally built on the back of treating his opponents like human garbage, offer such kind words about an opponent with the name-recognition and unorthodox appeal that West has? It probably isn’t a blistering shock to discover that while the GOP knows West has no chance to win the election, it also knows his campaign can serve a purpose for Trump.
If, by colluding with West, Trump can trick enough people into voting for the rapper, he has a fighting shot in multiple swing states where he’s currently running well behind Democratic nominee Joe Biden. A 537-vote difference in Florida brought on by liberal activist Ralph Nader’s third-party candidacy ensured Bush’s victory in that election. In 2016, then-candidate Trump again showed the value of a third party candidacy in a polarizing campaign, capitalizing on third party spoilers to win Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2016. In 2020, he has weaponized the spoiler candidacy, no longer just incidentally benefitting from it, but actively exploiting it for his own gain.
While Biden’s polling edge is bigger than Hillary Clinton’s at this point in the race four years ago, so is the spectre of third party candidacy in 2020. Gary Johnson was a perfectly nice guy and Jill Stein was a perfectly (probably) unwitting Russian asset, but neither candidate’s campaign was as titillating as West’s, and neither had such a strong opportunity to make genuine mainstream inroads. Of course, though, neither was actively accepting assistance from allies to the sitting president of the United States. West’s name recognition, especially among young voters, makes him a uniquely haunting prospect for our democracy. All West has to do is pull enough uninformed voters underneath his umbrella to earn a truly catastrophic place in American history, and people our age have the best opportunity to stop it.
West has a unique resource for a candidate: a personal image cultivated outside the scrutiny of Washington, D.C., and the political press. Because that same press treats his candidacy as illegitimate, it has become derelict in its scrutiny. In 2016, that political mythologizing of Trump — “He’s a successful businessman,” “He tells it like it is,” “He’ll run the country like a business,” actually came true, but only if you had rampant nepotism and corruption in mind — was one of his strongest appeals on his way to winning the election. If it resonated on such a large scale four years ago, who’s to say West, with Republicans at his side, can’t exploit that phenomenon on a much smaller scale? That’s all he has to do. Through that lens, his candidacy is not funny; it is not a joke and it is certainly not to be taken lightly.
Anybody who has ever set foot on a college campus knows how hard it is to get young adults to take anything seriously. That’s a challenge that gets amplified exponentially when you throw names like “Trump” and “Kanye” into the mix. It’s important that these problems are contextualized for the young voters who are most likely to make these mistakes. A vote for Kanye West is a vote for the payroll tax cuts Trump used to dupe people into not realizing that he’s driving Social Security to insolvency. Student debt totals over $1 trillion in the U.S., but a vote for Kanye West ensures that your debt stays on the books, while corporations and the top 1% of wage-earners continue to reap the benefits of the excess income Trump’s 2017 tax cuts handed them. A vote for West is a vote for the $141 million in taxpayer funds used since 2017 to finance the logistics of Trump’s 277 golf outings as the “leader” of the free world.
Kanye West has created art that resonates with and uplifts millions of millennials and Gen Z’ers. His music has inspired countless young people around the world. He’s one of the most enigmatic, prolific and influential artists of our lifetimes. Don’t remember him for that. Remember him for trying to screw over your country for a generation. For our generation. Never forget it.
Jack Roshco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.