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Mark Zuckerberg is visiting families in Iowa, hiring pollsters and posting declarative political statements.
This behavior mirrors the actions presidential candidates take prior to forming a political action committee and formally announcing their candidacy. But, despite all appearances, the Facebook founder isn’t running for president in 2020. Or at least that’s what he’s saying.
Zuckerberg’s fame has grown as Facebook conquered the world. He didn’t handle the attention so well early on, and Jesse Eisenberg’s pout took a while to wear off, but now it seems like Zuck is coming into his own as a public figure.
In 2017, global celebrity and a few billion dollars are enough to make you a viable presidential candidate. Zuckerberg has repeated, both on Facebook and to the media, that he has no intention to run in 2020. But for a guy not running for president, he’s sure doing a lot of things that a guy running for president would do.
While the rest of us were overcoming our New Year’s Eve hangover, Zuckerberg found God. After years as an avowed atheist, he announced in a Facebook comment that he “believes religion is very important.” That’s not exactly a godly revelation, but it makes political sense—according to Pew Research, 51 percent of Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist candidate. Bless up, Zuck.
Embarks on Listening Tour
On the same day he friended religion, Zuckerberg announced on Facebook that he’d visit all 50 U.S. states as part of his “listening tour,” ostensibly to hear the stories of everyday Americans from across the country. Hey—not every billionaire wants to buy an island and live on a yacht. I’d meander the states for home cooked meals and casual conversation if I had $71 billion. You know who else likes doing that kind of thing, though? Presidential candidates. And he’s not posting iPhone selfies to his Facebook feed. He hired former Bush and Obama campaign photographer Charles Ommanney to document the totally-for-fun road trip.
Hires David Plouffe
Just a week later, Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan hired David Plouffe to oversee policy and advocacy for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Plouffe was Barack Obama’s campaign manager in 2008. Barack Obama won the presidency by a mile in 2008. David Plouffe is a wildly successful political strategist and we all know that every private citizen needs a wildly successful political strategist. I asked James Carville for dating advice and his feedback was invaluable—he screamed “how did you get this number” and hung up. I got it. This one’s on me.
Denies Intention to Run
In a May Facebook post updating his yearlong listening tour, Zuckerberg said he’s not running for public office. (Note: everyone is coy about running for president.) Throughout the rest of the post, Zuck shares stories of his travels—listening to recovering heroin addicts in Ohio, community leaders in Detroit, and kids at a juvenile detention center in Indiana. Sure, making Facebook a better community forum is a great cover here, but isn’t this exactly the type of uplifting shit we’d want to hear a presidential candidate say?
Technically, it was just another stop on his listening tour, but news outlets took the liberty of wondering if Zuck might be previewing a trip to the 2019 caucuses. He looks so presidential among the corn and primary voters.
Hires Joel Benenson
In August, the Zuck Machine scooped up another seasoned political operative. Benenson is a former Clinton pollster, and was supposedly brought in to oversee the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s philanthropy. But this hire had folks more shocked than Facebook’s “Wow” reaction.
Condemns DACA Repeal
It’s easy to drag Donald Trump for his call to repeal DACA in September. It’s an evil move that will end up negatively affecting thousands of people who doesn’t deserve it. But while most of us reserve our political vitriol for angry tweets, Zuckerberg composed political soliloquies and called for action. These are the supportive, calculated statements every person shares on their Facebook page, in between vacation picture uploads and complaints about the new Taylor Swift video. It’s almost as if Zuckerberg is aware of our current void of presidential leadership and trying to take advantage of it.