Republicans aid Kanye West’s bid to get on the 2020 ballot
By Danny Hakim and Maggie Haberman
At least four people who have been active in Republican politics are linked to Kanye West’s attempt to get on the presidential ballot this year. The connection raises questions about the aims of the entertainer’s effort and whether it is regarded within the GOP as a spoiler campaign that could aid President Donald Trump, even as those close to West have expressed concerns about his mental health as he enters the political arena.
One operative, Mark Jacoby, is an executive at a company called Let the Voters Decide, which has been collecting signatures for the West campaign in three states. Jacoby was arrested on voter fraud charges in 2008 while he was doing work for the California Republican Party, and he later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
Jacoby, in a statement, said his company was nonpartisan and worked for all political parties. “We do not comment on any current clients, but like all Americans, anyone who is qualified to stand for election has the right to run,” he said.
New York Magazine reported Monday evening on the campaign’s links to two other people with partisan ties. One is Gregg Keller, the former executive director of the American Conservative Union, who has been listed as a contact for the campaign in Arkansas. Keller, who did not respond to a message seeking comment, is a Missouri-based strategist. He was under consideration to be Trump’s campaign manager in 2015, a role that was ultimately filled by Corey Lewandowski, according to a former campaign official.
Another person linked to the West campaign is Chuck Wilton, who is listed as a convention delegate for Trump from Vermont and as an elector with the West operation who could potentially cast an Electoral College vote for West. Wilton could not be reached. He and his wife, Wendy, a Trump appointee at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have been political supporters of the president. She hung up immediately when called at her office.
Late Tuesday, a local reporter in Madison, Wisconsin, recorded a woman dropping off ballot signatures for West. A report in Vice identified the woman as a Republican elections lawyer, Lane Ruhland. Ruhland worked for the Republican National Committee during the 2016 presidential election recount in Wisconsin. She did not return requests for comment, and a spokesman for the law firm where she works, Husch Blackwell, did not have an immediate comment.
The nature of the financial relationships between the West campaign and the operatives, if any, was not immediately clear.
West was until recently a fervent supporter of Trump and said they shared a “dragon energy,” but he declared early last month that he would run for president himself. A few days later, Trump retweeted a post that said West could siphon votes from Joe Biden, who has clinched the Democratic nomination. “That shouldn’t be hard,” Trump wrote. “Corrupt Joe has done nothing good for Black people!”
West developed a relationship with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, after West’s wife, Kim Kardashian West, worked with the president on criminal justice reform efforts. Kushner declined to comment, but a person close to him said that while West had periodically reached out to him, Kushner hadn’t been stoking a run to divert votes away from Biden.
To be sure, if West’s goal is to disrupt the general election between Biden and Trump, he is going about it in a strange way. For instance, some of the states where he has filed to get on the ballot have been solidly red states, like Arkansas, where his presence would almost certainly do little to change the general election equation. But other states he is targeting, like Wisconsin, are seen as pivotal.
Soon after his announcement, he explained that he was going to use a Wakanda-like management approach, referring to the fictional country from “Black Panther.” His running mate, Michelle Tidball, is a self-described “biblical life coach” based in Cody, Wyoming, where the Wests have a ranch. Tidball, according to TMZ, once advocated making beds and doing dishes as a way to treat mental illness.
West has missed the filing deadlines in a number of states, and on Tuesday he appeared to have abandoned efforts to get on the ballot in New Jersey, but he could still be a spoiler in other states. Jacoby said he hoped that news media attention underscored the complexity of getting on the ballot and “the need to modernize such ballot access laws to make it easier for every American who wants to serve.”
During an appearance in South Carolina last month, West broke down crying. He later tweeted that his wife “tried to bring a doctor to lock me up.” Amid his erratic behavior, Kardashian West has spoken out about her husband’s struggles with mental illness, and West has publicly apologized to his wife for some of his comments.
So with little resemblance to a viable campaign, it is unclear why ballots are still being gathered on West’s behalf. A spokeswoman for West referred questions to the campaign, which did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the Kardashian family also had no immediate comment.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump’s staff aimed to depress turnout among Black voters after determining that its own appeal to African Americans was slim. His appeal to Black voters that year was, “What do you have to lose?”
A recent commercial by the Trump campaign demonstrates that this continues to be part of its strategy. The ad focuses on tough-on-crime legislation supported by Biden during his Senate career, claiming that “Joe Biden’s policies destroyed millions of Black lives,” while ads aimed at whites claim that Democrats are too soft on crime.
Some of those who oppose Trump have been suspicious of West’s candidacy, to say the least. And they have expressed concerns that he could play a role similar to that of Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party candidate whom many Clinton supporters still see as having siphoned votes away from the Democratic nominee.
Political commentator Ana Navarro-Cárdenas recently tweeted that voters should “pay no attention” to West and likened him to Stein, saying such candidates “come in a variety of colors and gender.”