Photo: Maya Robinson and Photo by Getty
Picture the scene: On January 20, 2037, Armando Pérez is being sworn in as the 48th president of the United States, with his wife, Amethyst Amelia Pérez, by his side. His three-piece suit is impeccably tailored, and his bald head shines as bright as the day he was born, but in a break with tradition, Pérez does not remove his aviators for the occasion. As Chief Justice Clinton reads the oath of office, the president-elect follows along: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States … Dalé.”
The swift political rise of the man once known to the world as Pitbull — chart-topping rapper to charter-school magnate to congressman to senator to president — may come as a surprise to the political reporters at the Washington Post, the New York Times, and The Wall Street BuzzFeed-Journal. But not to me — because I will have called it all the way back in 2014, when Pitbull dropped his eighth album, Globalization.
I first noticed Pitbull’s political potential when he hosted last year’s American Music Awards. I was struck by his effortless personal charisma, the way he imbued even the cheesiest and sleaziest routines with a relentless positivity. He was like Bill Clinton, if Bill Clinton had once led a lesson on the history of twerking. “In 15 years,” I wrote at the time, “Pitbull is either going to be leading a megachurch, or running for office.”
Ever since, every interaction I’ve had with Pitbull’s whole deal has left me more and more convinced of this point. This weekend, he held the AMAs together for the second year in a row, uniting the far-flung branches of what’s left of the music industry through sheer force of will. And he’s continued it with a slew of promotional appearances (he’s a natural on The View), each showcasing his preternatural charisma. Like Obama on the campaign trail, he’s a master of speaking in disparate tongues while still remaining reliably himself.
Take his Facebook page, of which I am one of more than 60 million fans. It’s full of the usual pop-star self-promotional efforts — last Thursday, he posted an iTunes link for Globalization in Turkish — but it’s also a vehicle for Pitbull to reinforce the metanarrative of his own life. More than any politician since Al Smith, his is a classically American rags-to-riches tale: He’s the son of refugees, his father was a drug dealer, and now he’s a millionaire. “I never wonder how we got here,” Pitbull wrote this weekend. “I wonder where we’re going.” Squint a bit, and you can see RFK there.
This kind of talk isn’t confined to Facebook; it’s an integral part of Pitbull’s brand. Like Ronald Reagan, he has a knack for reassuring platitudes that don’t get any less reassuring when you realize how empty they are. Here’s a quote from a recent Businessweek profile: “Culture is generation, generation is power. When you become a generation — say, the MTV generation — that’s where you create the power.” This doesn’t actually mean anything, but it makes you feel pretty great about the future.
As that Businessweek profile also proves, Pitbull is learning to speak the language of today’s tech-focused moderate Democrats. (And rest assured, Pitbull is a Democrat: He’s been a vocal Obama supporter and frequently speaks out about immigration reform.) He briefly considered investing in Bitcoin but declined after deciding it wasn’t “disruptive” enough. He runs a charter school, the Sports Leadership and Management School (SLAM), in Miami. And he’s already fluent in the language of brands. When Pitbull released “Fireball” this summer, many fans wondered if the single was actually a stealth ad for the cinnamon-flavored whiskey, and the strange thing wasn’t that people were concocting conspiracy theories about Pitbull, it was that their conspiracy theory actually seemed plausible. Like most successful Democrats, Pitbull sees no conflict between social change and making a lot of money.
But could he win? If he goes into politics, it’s more conceivable than you might think. For one, Pitbull’s already exhibited the Teflon quality that marks most of our most famous leaders. Try to name a Pitbull scandal of the past ten years — you simply can’t. According to Businessweek, Pitbull has the lowest disapproval rating of any major star, which means he’s done something rare for a pop star and almost impossible for a rapper: become immensely popular without ever being disliked. Other numbers are on his side, too. Pitbull is most beloved among Millennials and Latinos, arguably the two most important demographics for any future presidential aspirant. His coalition’s less intense than the one that elected Obama, but it’ll still do what it needs to — perfect for a guy who endorses Bud Light.
And if this doesn’t convince you, maybe Lorde will. As the diminutive Kiwi tweeted after the AMAs, “I met Pitbull backstage, felt this wave of his charisma and loveliness wash over me, probably not dissimilar to meeting the president.” He’s already got Florida in the bag — only 241 electoral votes left.