'Kanye West should not be president': Chris Hayes grapples with the demise of parties

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

During the rise of Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican primary, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes found himself wondering what would happen if a reality TV star entered a Democratic primary race and started to rise in the polls.

“I kept saying, ‘What would be the equivalent for me? Who would the nominee have to be? And, hilariously, the example I came up with was Kanye West,” Hayes said. “Whatever you think about him as an artist or a personality, Kanye West should not be the president of the United States.”

“I don't think Kanye should have the nuclear codes, you know?” said Hayes, who hosts an hour of primetime each weeknight on MSNBC, in an interview on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast.

At a time when “I think people thought of his politics as, like, roughly liberal,” Hayes wondered what the Democratic Party would be able to do to stop a figure like West, a rap artist, from gaining traction in a party primary.

Hayes still thinks about that kind of a scenario. “I play with that idea all the time. Like, I still think about it,” he said.

Kanye West (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP [2], Getty Images)

“I thought more about myself and my own conscience. Like, would I be a person who, on my platform, was talking to my audience — who was sort of falling in line behind someone — to be like, ‘This person shouldn’t be the nominee’?” Hayes said.

West, who has no experience in elected office, has talked publicly about running for president since 2015, when he first said he planned to do so in 2020. In response, the New Yorker magazine published a cartoon on its cover mocking both West and Trump that showed West holding up a newspaper with the headline “Trump Defeats Kanye,” in a nod to the iconic 1948 photo of President Harry Truman holding up a “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline.

West has since continued to play with the idea in public comments, saying last year that he was now looking ahead to a 2024 run. As recently as August, he posted on Instagram asking his followers if he would be a good president.

A year ago, West visited Trump at the White House and spoke with reporters in the Oval Office while wearing a piece of signature Trump apparel: the red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. That came days after his appearance on “Saturday Night Live” wearing the same hat. West has surprised fans by defending Trump from criticism and aligning himself with the Republican Party in some of his comments.

Hayes wrote about the loss of trust in mediating institutions, such as political parties, in his 2011 book, “Twilight of the Elites.” “The most important social project we must undertake in the wake of the fail decade is reconstructing our institutions so that we once again feel comfortable trusting them,” he wrote. (The “fail decade” refers to 2000-2010 and specifically to the Iraq War, the financial crisis and the Catholic abuse scandal.)

He said on “The Long Game” that there are two forces creating openings for underqualified individuals to run for national or statewide elected office: “strong polarization, weak parties.”

“The lack of mediation combined with polarization just really creates really ugly incentives,” Hayes said.

In other words, polarization creates a situation where no matter who the two parties produce as their nominees, most voters revert to tribal identity and pick a side when it comes down to Democrat versus Republican, and rationalize away or ignore their nominees’ imperfections.

“I say this all the time when I do events. I’m like, ‘Anyone in this room, literally anyone in this room … who became the Democratic Party nominee would have a shot at being president … a 50-50 chance,’” Hayes said.

And weak parties create a situation where there are few options for a party establishment if it knows a candidate is unqualified or unprepared for the presidency, but that candidate is able to leverage some combination of celebrity, outrage and appeals to a hard-core element to gain political traction.

“Now, the Democrats don’t face that right now,” Hayes said.

“Even Andrew Yang — I think you could make a strong argument he lacks the qualifications necessary to be president — he’s not a sociopath,” Hayes said, contrasting Yang to Trump. “He’s not a pathological narcissist. He’s not, like, an obviously dangerous person.”

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