West, wearing a three-piece black suit, crisp white shirt and gold cufflinks bearing the African continent on them, also addressed skeptics that say he will be a spoiler for Biden if he continues his presidential bid. As for Biden’s ability to stay in the race, West said he didn’t think the president can sustain the mounting criticism he has been taking from the left on everything from the Israel-Hamas war to the economy.
West, 70, said he may very well be running against the “B Team” of Democrats, name-checking two blue-state governors: Gavin Newsom of California and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. (Newsom has said repeatedly, as recently as Wednesday, that he isn’t running for the 2024 nomination.)
“I’m just saying that I’m open to those possibilities, given the fluidity of the situation,” he said when pressed on the prospect of Biden terminating his presidential bid. “He’s running out of gas.”
West said things appear more “ironclad” on the GOP side, but he didn’t dismiss the notion that he could be competing for the White House against someone other than former President Donald Trump “if the weight becomes too heavy with the indictments and court processes.”
He offered a simmering critique of the two frontrunners for the Republican and Democratic nominations. He referred to Trump as a “bona fide gangsta, Neo fascist, Pied Piper leading the country for the second civil war,” while he characterized Biden as a “milquetoast neoliberal with military adventurism, possibly leading the world toward World War III.”
West said he couldn’t decide which candidate was worse.
“I’m more concerned about Trump domestically,” West said. “I’m more concerned about Biden in terms of foreign policy.”
The Biden campaign did not respond to POLITICO’s request for comment.
“Cornell [sic] West should go back to liberal academia instead of playing pretend politics,” said Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung in an email Thursday afternoon. “He still hasn’t graduated from the kids table.”
When asked whether his candidacy would be a spoiler, particularly for Biden’s chances at reelection, West flat-out rejected the notion.
“I don’t accept the spoiler category,” West said. “A vote for Biden, a vote for Trump is a vote for Biden and a vote for Trump.”
“There might be slices of people ‘if I didn’t vote for West, I would have voted for Biden,’” he said. “But that’s not to me, a spoiler. If you’re in a race, and you make a case, and they vote for you, how do you become the spoiler?”
And although West publicly campaigned for Biden in 2020, he said he ultimately couldn’t vote for him at the ballot box.
“When I got in there, I don’t know if it was the Holy Ghost [but] something hit me: I said naw, I can’t vote for this gangster.”
West, who at the time was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said he knew his vote wouldn’t impact Massachusetts’ liberal lean, though says if he lived someplace else he would have voted differently.
“If I had been in Wisconsin, Florida, or something, I would have done something different.”
West initially launched his candidacy with the People’s Party in June before switching to the Green Party and then to an Independent bid in October. West sees his coalition as including young voters and disaffected voters who don’t feel strong support for either party.
“So much of this campaign really is about trying to touch that 38 percent who don’t vote at all and young people more and more wrestling with cynicism of various sorts,” West said.
West, who has attained a level of celebrity as a cultural critic, a best-selling author and a television commentator, has also faced scrutiny for personal matters. A recent Forbes article detailed how he’s essentially broke even though he’s been able to amass millions of dollars over his decades in public life.
“Look at my record, my record is tainted, shot through and all kinds of faults and foibles,” he explained.
“If you are concerned, primarily and solely, with your president being married only one time, I’m not the one for you. And I’m certainly not the Black man for you,” he added. “But if you’re looking at somebody who has a record that encompasses a whole host of things, politically, intellectually, over time and space, alongside my personal life, then I might in fact, be somebody you consider very seriously.”
Polling shows declining support for Biden among Black voters, and one-fifth said in recent polling they were open to someone other than Biden and Trump. West’s candidacy poses the potential to pull those Black voters away from Biden, who won this bloc by roughly 90 percent in the last presidential cycle.
West maintains a current polling average of about 2.4 percent, according to RealClearPolitics, when included in a five-way race between Biden, Trump, Stein, who is now running for the Green Party as well as fellow independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
West has already qualified for the ballot in Alaska, he said, and aims to be on the ballot in at least 40 states next November.