What could Cornel West cost Biden?

3 months ago 191

West stopped by POLITICO HQ on Thursday for a wide-ranging, hour-plus conversation on everything from his path to the ballot to the crisis currently facing American higher education.

For today’s Q&A, here is a snippet of the conversation focused on the 2024 election and West’s place in it. He argued to POLITICO that his candidacy was more than just a spoiler for Biden — and said his campaign is working to get on the ballot in dozens of states.

This conversation has been edited for brevity (significantly) and clarity.

I want to know how long you have been considering running for president, and running for president as an independent or in a third-party capacity.

When it comes to my deciding, that was surprising to me. I’ve often said you’ll find me in a crack house before you find me in the White House. I’ve said that on many occasions, because there’s more corruption in the White House … I don’t care which party is in there.

So when I said that, you say ‘oh, now you change your mind?’ Absolutely right. I changed my mind. Why did I change my mind? When I looked up, I saw the legacy that produced me, the tradition from which I come, not being represented: Who’s been there for poor people? … Who’s been there for mass incarceration? Who is concerned with imperial policies?

So how many states do you think you’ll be on the ballot in?

We’ll be on 15 by the Ides of March. We should be on about 30 in the early summer and we hope about 40 or so by November.

So not all 50?

We’re after all 50. But we might not. The corporate duopoly is just so entrenched. It’s unbelievable. I mean, New York? … I know we have some serious uphill work to do.

What is the electorate that you’re going to pull in? Which Trump voters are you pulling in? Which Biden voters?

One crucial bloc is the youth vote: 18 to 29. More than two-thirds don’t want either. … I’ve discovered over time that the youth vote is disproportionately concerned about the ecological crisis in a way that so many of the older folk are not. … The youth vote is deeply concerned about the failed promises of Biden on student loans. The youth vote has a certain openness to the cross-cultural, multicultural, cross-racial sensibility.

But I’m not just about the youth vote. We got the Black vote. We got our trade union vote — we meet with the Teamsters later today … And now we’re going to Detroit on Tuesday for ‘Arabs for West.’ With the Gaza situation, a whole host of Arab brothers and sisters saying, ‘you know, we got behind Biden and look what he’s given us.’

Is that enough people to win?

It’s hard to say.

There is a long history of people who are viewed as spoilers. Do you worry about that? Do you think you could be a spoiler instead of a winner?

I don’t accept the spoiler category. I really don’t. A vote for Biden, a vote for Trump is a vote for Biden and a vote for Trump. And there may be slices of people who say ‘if I didn’t vote for West, I would have voted for Biden.’ But that’s not, to me, a spoiler. If you’re in the race, and you make a case and they vote for you, how do you become the spoiler?

Are you more concerned about former President Trump winning than a second Biden term? I just want to make sure that assumption is true.

I’m more concerned about Trump domestically. I’m more concerned about Biden in terms of foreign policy. … I just refuse to choose between that alternative gangsta option.

[Editor’s note: Earlier in the conversation, he called “brother Trump” a “neo-fascist pied piper leading the country to a second civil war.” He added that “I see brother Biden as a milquetoast neoliberal with military adventurism, possibly leading the world to World War III.”]

So did you vote for Biden in 2020?

No.

Who did you vote for?

I voted for some revolutionary when I got in there. Now I had publicly supported Biden, but when I got in there I couldn’t do it. … I wouldn’t do it to my brothers in the mass incarceration regime, who view Biden as the architect … Even though I publicly supported him, because I wanted to be part of an anti-facist coalition … when I got in there, I don’t know if it was the Holy Ghost, something hit me.

You talked about supporting Biden publicly and then not voting for him. How is that different from other politicians you’ve railed against?

I’m living in Cambridge. And I knew that Massachusetts was going to go Democratic no matter what. … It was just tension, you live in the midst of tension. … If I had been in Wisconsin, Florida, I would have felt something different.

This interview first appeared in POLITICO Pro’s Morning Score newsletter. Sign up for POLITICO Pro.

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