Where Does 2020 Presidential Candidate Kanye West Stand on the Issues?

Kanye West 2015 MTV Video Music Awards
Photo: Christopher Polk/MTV1415/Getty Images

It may have seemed like a joke last year when Kanye West announced at the 2015 VMAs that he wanted to run for president in 2020. And while, like many things Kanye does, it was likely at least in part a troll, if there’s anything the 2016 election has taught us, it’s that a celebrity with no political experience can, in fact, assume the nation’s highest office. On a particularly eventful stop on his Saint Pablo tour Thursday, Kanye reaffirmed his intention to run for president in 2020, and also enraged plenty of fans when he said he didn’t vote, but if he had, he would have voted for now-president-elect Donald Trump.

That declaration may come as a little bit of a surprise, since it seemed safe to assume Kanye’s a Democrat: He donated $1,000 to President Obama in 2012, gave $15,000 to the Democratic National Committee before the last midterm election, and donated $2,700 to Hillary Clinton in 2015, meaning his comments on supporting Trump make us even more confused about his political leanings. Now, it will still probably be some time before Kanye begins releasing policy papers, but he has shed some light on his ideology through his lyrics and interviews. Here’s a guide to the artist’s political views, beyond his feelings on George Bush and black people, and a look at what we might expect if he really were to run against Trump in 2020.

Obviously, Kanye’s music and performances deal heavily with issues of racism, but in several interviews, he’s said his view of America’s core problem has evolved. “It’s about class and it was a classist move that even when you get invited to certain dinner parties, or even when you’re in certain magazines, it’s still a Dinner With Schmucks situation,” he said in a 2013 Wild 94.9 interview. “Are they inviting you to be a part of what you’re doing or are they inviting you to laugh at your teeth? And ask you a million questions like, ‘Oh, those are cool teeth. What’s that?’ … It’s not about racism anymore. It’s classism. Like Paula Deen, she was old school with it. They like, ‘We don’t do it like that anymore, that’s racist. We classist now.’”

In an interview on the radio show “The Breakfast Club” February of last year, host Charlamagne Tha God noted that while Kanye once challenged President Bush, “it seems like you were just fighting for the civil rights of rich people lately.” Kanye offered an interesting theory on the future of racism:

I think it’s the rights of everyone. And another thing that I used to get really caught up on was with race. You know, with race it’s like, okay we know it’s racist people, we know that a lot of white men over the age of 60 are racist, we embrace that. We know that a lot of people that are in power don’t really… they’re like Donald Sterling. We understand that. We know that, but the world is moving. Ten years from now, 20 years from now, every person of color or female or any minority that comes into power will eventually shift it. You got the ozone layer, you got all this stuff, you see 100 years from now the entire world might be black. Just to even survive on the earth, period.

During Thursday night’s bombastic concert interlude, Kanye made sure to say his support of Trump “don’t mean I don’t think Black Lives Matter.” He previously showed his support to the group in a 2014 tweet applauding a weekend of protesting police brutality.

The Confederate Flag
Kanye believes that the Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery and racism, not merely Southern pride. However, he may want to reclaim the flag rather than removing it from state capitols. He’s worn the flag and featured it on his tour merchandise, explaining, “I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag now, now whatchu gonna do?”

Tax Reform
In the midst of the 2012 election, Kanye rapped, “I be all up in Goldman Sachs like these n—– trying to hold me back, these n—– trying to hold me back, I’m just trying to protect my stacks, Mitt Romney don’t pay no tax, Mitt Romney don’t pay no tax.” On the one hand, this supported Harry Reid’s now-debunked claim that Romney evaded paying taxes for years, but on the other hand, ‘Ye seemed to sympathize with the billionaire candidate’s financial troubles.

LGBTQ Rights
Back in 2005, Kanye spoke out about homophobia in hip-hop in an MTV News interview. He said that “everybody in hip-hop discriminates against gay people” and he wanted to “just come on TV and just tell my rappers, just tell my friends, ‘Yo, stop it, fam.’” It was a bold and uncommon move for a rapper ten years ago, long before Macklemore released “Same Love” and ten years before the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

It’s not just gay rights, either. Kanye was a proud supporter of Caitlyn Jenner when she came out as transgender and began her transition. In the premiere of I Am Cait, Jenner’s short-lived reality show, Kanye told her not to care what anyone else may think of her and tell them, “Fuck everybody. This is who I am.”

Kanye assured his fans his support of Donald Trump did not mean he had become any less of an ally. At Thursday night’s concert, he told the crowd that it “don’t mean I don’t believe in gay marriage.”

On The College Dropout, Kanye detailed his complex feelings about leaving school at 20 to pursue his musical career. He founded the Dr. Donda West Foundation, which is named after his late mother, to combat illiteracy and low graduation rates, and to provide access to music education programs (it ceased operations in 2011). However, education advocates would likely take issue with ‘Ye repeatedly making anti-literacy declarations, such as “I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph. I am a proud non-reader of books.”

Marijuana Legalization
He hasn’t addressed the issue specifically, but considering that his announcement speech included the line, “Ya’ll might be thinking right now, ‘Did he smoke something before he came out here?’ The answer is yes, I rolled up a little something. I knocked the edge off!” we’ll assume he’s pro-legalization.

Public Health
Kanye has done his part to raise awareness about AIDS, but other advocates were not thrilled when he declared at the 2005 Live 8 concert tour that AIDS is a “manmade disease” that was “placed in Africa just like crack was placed in the black community to break up the Black Panthers.” He reiterated this point in the 2005 track “Heard ‘Em Say” with the line, “And I know the government administered AIDS / So I guess we just pray like the minister say.” In 2010’s “Gorgeous” he added, “I treat the cash the way the government treat AIDS / I won’t be satisfied til all my niggas get it, get it?”

Foreign Policy
As we learned in 2005’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix),” Yeezy is very concerned about West African children forced to mine “blood diamonds.” He has yet to weigh in on the Iran deal.

Income Inequality
In 2011, Kanye visited Occupy Wall Street with Russell Simmons, which many found ironic since he’s made it rather clear that he’s part of the one percent. As Yeezy remained uncharacteristically quiet, Simmons explained his thoughts on the matter: “Kanye’s been a big supporter, spiritually for this movement. He’s just here to stand with the people. He’s not — the politics of it, he doesn’t want to make a statement, didn’t want to do any media at all, actually. He’s here, and I guess there’s no way around it,” Simmons said. “He’s here … and he understands this idea about getting the money out of the government and letting the people govern. He wants to give power back to the people. That’s why we’re here.”

During a lecture at Oxford University earlier this year, Kanye also shared some deep thoughts on the discrimination inherent in $5,000 sweaters:

It’s illegal to not wear clothes, and also possibly too cold. That means someone is imposing an idea on you that should legally have to do! Clothing should be like food. There should never be a $5,000 sweater. You know what should cost $5,000? A car should be $5,000. And you know who should work on the car? The people that work on the $500,000 cars. All the best talent in the world needs to work for the people. And I am so fucking serious about this concept that I will stand in front of anyone and fight for it. Because I was 14 and middle class. I know what it felt like to not get what I have.

Prison Reform
Kanye earned praise from the likes of Michael Moore for criticizing the private prison system in “New Slaves.” He raps: “Meanwhile the DEA / Teamed up with the CCA [Correction Corporation of America] / They tryn’a lock niggas up / They tryn’a make new slaves / See that’s that private owned prison / Get your piece today.”

Commentators said his basic analysis of the prison-industrial complex was correct, but Think Progress’ Alyssa Rosenberg felt his conclusion was less eloquent:

Instead of targeting, say, Corrections Corporation of America founders Tom Beasley, T. Don Hutto and Doctor Robert Crants, or the private prison company’s current board chairman, John Ferguson, or its president and CEO Damon Hininger for their corporate decision-making, or Drug Enforcement Administrator Michele Leonhart for her policy-making, “New Slaves” ends with a cheap, nasty fantasy of sexual revenge. “They prolly all in the Hamptons / Braggin’ ’bout they maid,” West reflects of the DEA and CCA. “Fuck you and your Hampton house / I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse / Came on her Hampton blouse / And in her Hampton mouth.”

First Ladies
Kanye is against First Ladies being awarded Vogue covers for unadventurous fashion choices. In 2013 he argued that his wife, Kim Kardashian, was more deserving of a cover than the current First Lady, saying, “No one is looking at what Obama is wearing. Michelle Obama cannot Instagram a bikini pic like what my girl Instagrammed the other day.” A year later, Kimye got that Vogue cover. Expect more sunbathing on the South Lawn of the White House.

Political Parties
Kanye isn’t really one for political labels, choosing to focus more on unifying ideas and concepts. And a Yeezy presidency could have one of the most diverse cabinets in history. During his concert Thursday night when he expressed support for Donald Trump, Kanye also emphasized the importance of bipartisan cooperation, something that the government has been sorely lacking recently:

I’ll just say I got some ideas about the way that we should connect our ideas. And we should use opposite parties that the Republicans, that the Democrats, that everyone that ran that had an idea that people agreed with should be the collective ideas that are used to run the country. And that should mean more. So it stinks that Benjamin Carson… that I believe in that Benjamin Carson should still be a consultant. I think that Hillary Clinton should still be a consultant. I think that Bill Clinton should still be a consultant. Obama said… I think Obama should still be a consultant. It’s that, “Oh, I don’t fuck with your principles so now I’m not gonna give you no information that could help you help all of us.”

Why He Should Be President
Back in 2013, Kanye explained on Bret Easton Ellis’s podcast, “We’re currently led by the least noble, least talented, least respected, least respectful people — politicians. Period. But the world could be saved through art and design. Art is something that in definition I think is a really close thing to love, and love is really close to God, and God is the master creator. If you’re creative, therefore, you are God, a god of something.” Politicians have had their chance; why not switch things up with a president who literally is a god?

This post has been updated throughout.

Where Does Kanye Stand on the Issues for 2020?