Kanye-Trump bromance shows how GOP should keep courting black voters

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The Trump campaign’s outreach efforts to rappers were largely dismissed as cringey stunts: the smiling thumbs-up photo-op with Lil Wayne; Jared Kushner’s three-hour meeting with Ice Cube; Trump’s introduction of Lil Pump as “Lil Pimp” at a Grand Rapids rally. It was all so easy to mock. 

Now, as Republicans work to build on Trump’s historic gains among black voters, that outreach is worth a second look. It wasn’t a stunt; it was strategy. The White House crafted a specific policy package that takes rappers, their fans, and the challenges of the black community seriously. And that effort shouldn’t die once Trump leaves office. 

The centerpiece of Trump’s policy package comes courtesy of Kanye West. The dominant media narrative dismisses West as an off-his-meds lunatic. His endorsement of Trump several years ago and subsequent run for president are, supposedly, a silly celebrity sideshow. But peer past the social media shards and you’ll find he’s articulated a specific, clear, actionable vision of black economic empowerment. 

As I detail in my new documentary about Kanye’s presidential run, he flatly rejects the woke orthodoxy that paints him as nothing but a helpless victim of faceless white overlords, that makes a fetish of black weakness. And he’s noticed that the policy agenda that springs from that fetish has utterly failed. As Ali Alexander, a black political strategist who spent a month with Kanye at his Calabasas compound and was the rapper’s first-ever retweet, explained to me: Kanye wants “blacks to be equal [but] all the methods the Left is telling us to reach equality have not worked and will not work. I know he’s done with that.” 

In his October 2018 meeting at the Oval Office, Kanye said this to the president: “Blacks . . . really get caught up in the idea of racism, over the idea of industry.” That’s a message he’s repeated over and over again: Black people must become the agents of their own uplift. 

Kanye has witnessed the power of black industry up close. His paternal grandfather worked his way up from shining shoes in Jim Crow Oklahoma to running his own furniture factory. Rap itself is a grand act of economic self-empowerment: Black America proves itself to be a miraculous engine of cultural innovation, birthing a brand new genre that now supports trillions in global economic activity. 

The White House listened to Kanye. Stoking industry was the central feature of the Trump campaign’s Platinum Plan proposal, which set a specific goal of growing 500,000 new black-owned businesses. 

Some of the policy levers for achieving that aim came from the old GOP playbook, chiefly cutting regulations and taxes on small businesses. 

Those aren’t pet policy concerns of rich old white men. While making my documentary I learned that one of the key incidents that prompted Kanye to buy a 4,000-acre ranch in Cody, Wyo., was a run-in with California regulators: He was forced to tear down some experimental housing structures on his Calabasas property because they slightly exceeded a local height ordinance. 

Importantly, though, the Platinum Plan wasn’t blindly anti-government. It also proposed pouring half a trillion dollars in capital into black communities, including $40 billion in new federal contracts and direct investment. This isn’t reparations; it’s equity, what Lil Wayne called “real ownership” in his endorsement of Trump. 

The Platinum Plan also promised more and better trained police to ensure “safe urban neighborhoods.” Most black voters don’t actually support defunding the police. They understand that the cycle of homicidal retribution plaguing places like Compton and Baltimore is the product of insufficient, not excessive, policing. 

Kanye himself sees securing urban safety as crucial for building equity. “If everyone is looted all the time . . . and no one goes to jail, there inherently aren’t property rights,” explains Ali. “So Kanye West is saying . . . if you can’t protect property rights, there’s no such thing as equity.” 

But the Platinum Plan also prioritized criminal justice reform, promising to build off the First Step Act’s sentencing reductions and to funnel more federal dollars toward drug rehabilitation. President Trump issued a slew of pardons for people locked up under mandatory minimum sentencing laws, most of whom are black. 

And who was the celebrity face of those pardons? Kim Kardashian West. While the resistance was busy hyperventilating about the latest “white supremacist” plot from the White House, Kanye’s wife, supposedly a brain-dead reality TV star, was doing the gritty work required to liberate actual black people from prison. Alice Marie Johnson had been condemned to a life sentence for a non-violent drug offense, and her previous clemency request had been turned down by the Obama administration. Today, Alice is a free woman, in part because Kim used her social media empire, arguably a force more powerful than all the cable news networks combined, to draw attention to her case and bring it straight to the Trump White House. 

Aggressive policing and sentencing reform aren’t contradictory goals. They’re interlocking policy pieces for boosting black well-being. 

The White House proved the rap community is receptive to GOP outreach. That effort needs to continue even after Trump leaves office. 

Rob Montz is CEO of Good Kid Productions. Find his new mini-doc about Kanye West’s run for president at KanyeWestWing.us.

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