Biden Can’t Blame Kanye (Or Anyone Else)

Just hours after rapper Kanye West tweeted about his plans to run for president, some liberals started playing the blame game.

The idea is that West, an outspoken Donald Trump supporter, is running as a Trump campaign Manchurian candidate to steal votes—specifically Black votes—away from Joe Biden. To be fair, there’s no confirmation beyond his late night tweet that West will actually run. But it’s not just racist to assume young Black voters would monolithically support West over Biden—it’s giving Democrats an out for a possible loss in November.

To date, Biden has run one of the quietest presidential campaigns in recent memory—partially out of necessity due to COVID-19, and partially by design to hide Biden’s flaws and let Trump’s failures eat up media attention. Criticism of Biden has waned as Trump sputters while dealing with a worsening pandemic, tanking economy, and ongoing racial justice protests. The latest Gallup poll clocked Trump with an abysmal 38 percent approval rating.

Still, as bad as Trump’s been, Biden’s (and Democrats’) shortcomings haven’t gone anywhere. As the election draws nearer, voters will be reminded of those flaws and Biden will be forced to overcome them. Hillary Clinton proved in 2016 that assuming certain people will vote for you won’t get it done. It’s up to Biden and his campaign to appeal to the voters they want, not shame them for their uncertainty or lack of support.

In theory, it shouldn’t be difficult for Biden to appeal to the young Black voters that Kanye will supposedly poach. Despite his troublingly conservative record on criminal justice and mass incarceration, he’s miles ahead of Trump on race almost by default. But assuming that’s enough is a recipe for disaster. Now is the perfect time for Biden to distinguish himself and propose sweeping criminal justice reform that includes significant police defunding and steps toward abolition. Anything short of that or other meaningful racial equity policies—like greater access to healthcare, federal jobs guarantees, and ending mass incarceration, to name a few—opens Biden up to attacks that he’s little more than a silent, complicit alternative to the abysmal status quo. It’s a presidential candidate and campaign’s job to appeal to voters, not assume they’ll show up no matter what—regardless of how historically bad the alternative is.

It’s more than fair to argue that a Kanye West presidential campaign would be little more than a stunt. But perhaps if it’s possible for your campaign to be derailed by a famous rapper making a vanity play, it isn’t that strong to begin with. Many of Biden’s supporters and sympathetic media have touted that his is the most progressive major party presidential campaign platform ever. Now would be a good time to show those words actually mean something.