Everyone laughed when Kanye West announced his plans to run for president in 2020 on the MTV Video Music Awards last year.
But, ask yourself this: In a world in which Donald Trump has been the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination for the past six months straight -- and looks like a good-to-great bet to wind up as the party's nominee -- is the idea of Kanye running that crazy?
Then read the preamble to Kanye's "announcement." Here's the key bit:
This is a new mentality. We're not gonna control our kids with brands. We’re not going to teach low self esteem and hate to our kids. We’re going to teach our kids that they can be someone. We’re going to teach our kids that they can stand up for themselves. We’re going to teach our kids to believe in themselves. If my grandfather were here right now he would not let me back down. I don’t know what I’m gonna lose after this, I don’t care though, because it’s not about me. It’s about ideas, new ideas, people with ideas, people who believe in truth.
That's far less out there than much of what Trump has said/proposed on the campaign trail.
Now, Kanye may or may not run (I am guessing he won't) but the point is this: Lots and lots of celebrities look at what Trump has done in this race and think, "I could totally do that." In fact, my guess is that lots of celebrities look at Trump's success and think "If this guy can get to where he is, imagine what I could do."
There are three things that celebrities in our culture don't lack for: 1) ego, 2) money, 3) exposure. Trump has proved that when you combine all three into a campaign and mix it with our celebrity-obsessed, reality TV culture, you get a very potent concoction. What better thing for your "brand" (barf) than to get into politics? You go from just a guy who makes music or sells real estate or played basketball (Kobe 2024!) to someone with real gravitas -- a civic-minded person who is trying to make things better for everyone, not just himself. Plus, lots of people tune in to hear your various theories about life, the universe and everything.
If you win, great. But if you lose, imagine the marketing possibilities built into being not just an entertainer but also a serious thinker about American politics and policy.
Cynical? Yes. But are there two more cynical industries than politics and entertainment? Answer: No. If you think some PR person or "brand" (double barf) manager in Los Angeles isn't watching Trump's candidacy and imagining the possibilities for his client come 2020, you are wrong.
Trump has shown how fruitful and, frankly, fun, it can be for a celebrity to run for a major political office. Win or lose, he will spawn imitators. And don't be surprised if those imitators do better than you might think.