The Republican consultant Jeff Roe steered Ted Cruz’s campaign to second place in the 2016 Republican primary and more recently did a stint at the Never Back Down super PAC, backing up Ron DeSantis’ now-finished campaign.
But between the two, Roe considered taking on another candidate for president: the artist formerly known as Kanye West.
In the summer of 2020, Roe held talks with Ye, as the rapper and off-the-rails political figure is now known, to run his 2020 presidential campaign under the so-called Birthday Party, three sources familiar with their interactions confirmed to Semafor.
Though Roe was never signed as a consultant, Ye declared his candidacy on Independence Day 2020, just four months before the election, and won just over 70,000 votes out of the more than 158 million votes cast. He conceded the largely self-funded campaign a day after the election and then launched a second presidential run in November 2022, under the shadow of a series of escalating antisemitic remarks. Ye’s announcement came shortly after a dinner with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, where he infamously brought white nationalist Nick Fuentes along as a guest.
Less than a year later, an attorney for the artist confirmed to Rolling Stone he was no longer a candidate for the 2024 presidential election. He later apologized, in Hebrew, for his comments a month before an expected album release.
Roe declined to comment. Ye could not be reached for comment.
Ye’s campaign was never more than a stunt, but it had a tactical appeal to some supporters of Donald Trump, whom Ye had said he supported in 2016. He met with Trump during his transition, again at the White House in 2018, and with Jared Kushner in 2020. Ye’s conversations with Roe indicate that the artist had at least some contact with the mainstream Republican political world as he assembled his campaign.
The Birthday Party’s appeal to Republicans was simple: An African American celebrity could potentially siphon off a sliver of Black voters who are frustrated with Democrats, tilting a close race to Trump. But in November 2020, Black voters voted 92% for Biden, according to a validated voter study by Pew Research.
This year, however, Democrats are again nervously eyeing Biden’s standing among Black voters, which Bloomberg reported in December is unusually weak. And while Ye won’t be on the ballot, the progressive academic Cornel West is running as an independent, targeting Black voters and young people alienated from Biden over the president’s support for Israel.
- While he surely saved himself from some chaos by turning down a Ye campaign, Roe’s time at Never Back Down wasn’t exactly easy either. The Washington Post detailed how internal tensions led to his departure as DeSantis and his allies struggled to manage competing power centers.
- Trump was not a fan of Roe’s work on behalf of DeSantis. Politico reports the former president has told campaigns not to hire him as retaliation for opposing his most recent run.