Tiger King for U.S. president? Joe Exotic says he’s trying to ‘Make America Exotic Again’
The Tiger King is running for president for the second time. Yes, that Tiger King — the one from the Netflix docuseries.
Joseph Allen Maldonado (known by his performer name “Joe Exotic” or “Tiger King”) filed as a Libertarian candidate for the U.S. presidency on Feb. 1. He did a soft launch of his campaign by reusing a variation of his previous slogan, posting on Twitter, “Make the White House exotic for once. #JoeExotic2024.”
Maldonado launched his campaign as he’s incarcerated in an Atlanta prison after he was convicted in a murder-for-hire plot. According to NPR, he was convicted of trying to hire two people to kill Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue. He was also convicted of killing five tigers, falsifying wildlife records and selling tiger cubs.
He’s now serving a 21-year sentence and his story has generated national buzz due to his appearance in the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King.” The series was released during the COVID-19 pandemic and spawned several memes. Maldonado owned the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (called the G.W. Zoo in the series) which housed exotic cats like tigers, ligers, lions and others.
Joe Exotic’s debut in ‘Tiger King’
The series unraveled the world of exotic cat sanctuaries and private zoos — it’s a lot more intense than one would think. Baskin and Maldonado were revealed as having something of a rivalry, with Baskin criticizing the operations of Maldonado and Maldonado responding in kind with curse word-laden videos and accusing her of killing her former husband, Don Lewis. Lewis has been missing since 1997 and is still considered a missing person.
Baskin hasn’t been charged in connection with Lewis’ disappearance and denies any involvement in his disappearance, per People.
When the world saw Joe Exotic with his bleach blonde mullet and sardonic personality, meme after meme was created. During the series, several of his country songs are played and he has one liners that caught the public’s attention, like, “I am never going to financially recover from this.” The memes were never ending.
The pandemic made it so the show had a bigger audience. Everyone was at home and, given the extra time, people had more time to watch “Tiger King.” But it was also just a peculiar phenomenon. Rewatching the series made some realize how jarring it was, but the first time around, many viewers were captivated and social media was flooded with Joe Exotic.
Maldonado’s eccentric media personality as Joe Exotic was a fixture throughout the series and for good reason. His YouTube channel, JoeExoticTV, has 371,000 subscribers and nearly 1,000 videos posted. The series also included other figures like Doc Antle, a celebrity animal trainer. According to the Winchester Star, Antle is awaiting trial for two felony counts of selling an endangered species and other charges.
The series was shocking and a true crime like no other, with Joe Exotic gathering internet infamy. Even after going to prison for the murder-for-hire conviction, he’s still had content go up on his YouTube channel, such as this video where he says that he thinks he’s wrongfully detained and gives a message to President Joe Biden.
Mixed in with videos of tigers and zoo life are political messages from Maldonado’s previous campaigns. That’s right — the 2024 election cycle isn’t the first time that he has run for office or even for U.S. president.
Joe Exotic’s first presidential run
He ran as an independent presidential candidate for the 2016 election. According to FEC filings, his campaign contributions and total receipts added up to $15,335 — a very small campaign with very few donors. With his small campaign, he still attracted the attention of John Oliver, who made a joke about him on his show “Last Week Tonight.” Men’s Health reported that Maldonado’s campaign was based on being pro-abortion rights, pro-LGBT rights and and anti-gun reform laws.
Maldonado’s political views can be described as libertarian. HuffPost said Oliver offered the adaption of former President Donald Trump’s slogan, “Joe Exotic: Make American Exotic Again” as a potential slogan. Maldonado has used this slogan in recent tweets (please note that the tweet has strong language). People said that he tried to attend one of Trump’s fundraisers during the 2016 election. He was barred from entry of the fundraiser due to security concerns.
Joe Exotic’s gubernatorial campaign
He didn’t win the election and supported Trump afterwards. After he lost the election, he launched a campaign in the 2018 gubernatorial election in the state of Oklahoma. Rex Lawhorn, who ran against Maldonado in the Libertarian primary, said in Reason that he didn’t consider him a true libertarian.
Lawhorn said that Maldonado wanted to legalize yet tax marijuana, had a healthcare system similar to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ system, planned on shutting down businesses that polluted at all and charge citizens for immigration. According to Lawhorn, Maldonado’s eccentricities came out during the campaign and both of them ended up losing the primary to Chris Powell, who was the chairman of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party at the time.
After Maldonado’s conviction, the Oklahoma Libertarian Party revoked his membership due to the nature of his convictions. They expressed regret that he was able to run without the party’s consent in 2018.
After his conviction, he began a social media campaign to convince then-presidentTrump to pardon him. When a reporter asked Trump if he had plans of doing so, Real Clear Politics said that Trump said he would “take a look.” Trump never pardoned him, so he remains in prison.
Joe Exotic’s run for 2024 president
Even though Maldonado is convicted, that’s not stopping him from running for president. While it’s unusual for people who have been convicted of a felony to run for president, it’s not without precedent. Keith Judd, who was convicted of extortion, per The Washington Post, has run for president several times.
Maldonado filed this time around as a libertarian. His campaign website contains his positions on prison reform, criminal justice reform, ending complete immunity, immigration, taxes, foreign affairs, social security and medicare. He’s critical of the current systems that the U.S. has and is arguing for things like four year limits with two limits total for federal judges, senators and representatives, as well as allowing people to choose to opt out of Social Security.
His endorsements page includes his fiance Seth Posey, as well as Classy Convicts, UFC fighter Justin Jaynes and others. He says that it’s constitutional right to run for president even while convicted, which is what he intends on doing.
After surveying Maldonado’s social media, especially looking at his Twitter feed during his presidential runs, it’s clear that he’s trying to portray himself as one of the people, an ordinary citizen who happens to be running for president. He uses crass language and tweets things like, “The only wish they could have the respect of big cats like I did.”
His campaign is every bit as eccentric as he is and feels like a fever dream. With other candidates flooding in, it’s unlikely that Maldonado will be elected. But if he is, it might call for another season of “Tiger King.”
What happens if Joseph Maldonado gets elected?
There hasn’t been anyone who has ever won the U.S. presidential election while imprisoned for a felony. Hypothetically, if that were to happen, he’d likely have to take the oath of office while in prison and then immediately pardon himself. Presidents only have the ability to pardon federal crimes, but this type of pardon would be unprecedented and likely debated by legal experts.