Kanye West can’t possibly end up in the White House — but that, of course, was never the point.

The hip-hop star says he isn’t running for president to win; rather, he’s “walking … to win.” Whether this is lyricism or gibberish is hard to say. What’s easier to say is that the GOP operatives submitting signatures and disputing missed deadlines to stick a guy with mental health issues on the ballot are very cynical, very racist and also very wrong. Their strategy rests on a misunderstanding both of Black voters and of their own.

Kim Kardashian West pleaded last month for “compassion and empathy” amid an outburst of erraticism from her husband, who at his inaugural and so far only campaign rally broke down in tears after dissing Harriet Tubman. The next day, in a Twitter rant, he claimed he was the inspiration for the movie “Get Out.”

Kardashian West said the rapper has bipolar disorder and we ought to “give grace” to individuals struggling psychologically. Instead, the Republican lawyers who have appropriated West’s electoral cause as their own are offering a mixture of enablement and exploitation. Jared Kushner even reportedly met with West recently while the two were traveling in Colorado with their respective wives.

This gambit wouldn’t be happening if West were in better health, because it’s much easier to persuade a billionaire with zero political experience to fork over legal fees for catapulting him over the finish line to nowhere, just as the clock is running out, when he’s struggling to maintain his balance. And it also wouldn’t be happening if West weren’t Black, because the thinking behind this old-fashioned, third-party ploy relies on reducing both the candidate and his imaginary supporters to their race.

The theory of West as spoiler goes something like this: Some of the swing states that went Donald Trump’s way in 2016 did so because of third-party candidates, including Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and a smattering of write-ins, who grabbed a tiny sliver of the overall vote. Even if West can’t claim a spot on the ballot in many states, he has a better shot than most at sneaking into that write-in slot, because pretty much everyone in America has heard of (or heard) West. This move could cut Joe Biden’s margins in cities especially: Young Black men are less of a core demographic for Dems than they are for Def Jam. And a point or two lost in Philadelphia, Atlanta or Detroit could matter this fall.

Yet all this might be no more than a not-so-beautiful dark twisted fantasy. Certainly, the concept of standing up a third-party alternative to subtract support from a rival in a close election isn’t new. But the assumption that Black votes Black isn’t backed up by the evidence, and the assumption that Black votes Kanye isn’t backed up by common sense. Though Black voters do pull the lever for Black candidates at disproportionate rates, they also tend to put substance above skin color, prioritizing perceived electability, or credibility within the community, or party affiliation. These voters’ preference for Biden in the primaries was a reminder of precisely this.

West isn’t Barack Obama simply because he’s a Black guy from the South Side of Chicago. West isn’t even Chance the Rapper simply because he’s a Black guy from the South Side of Chicago. The closest West came to politics before his embrace of the MAGA mantra came in 2005, when he blurted in the middle of a nationally televised relief concert following Hurricane Katrina that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” Since then, it has been all red hats and red pills.

A YouGov poll in 2015 related to West’s initial “announcement” at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards found that Democrats far preferred a Washington insider to a celebrity outsider; Republicans went the opposite way. A later YouGov poll, taken after West started chanting his yen for Trumpism, found that 9 percent of Black Americans and 13 percent of Democrats looked on West favorably, compared with 20 percent of Whites and 34 percent of Republicans.

No wonder. Why should West siphon off support from a career politician such as Biden, rather than from someone more like him: a celebrity with scarcely a shred of serious politics or policy in his past or, really, his present? West has done little to dispel the notion that he’s a troll candidate. You might vote for him for the proverbial LOLs. You might vote for him because you want to burn it all down. You might vote for him for many of the reasons you might vote for Trump, or for no one at all — but for none of the reasons you might vote for Biden.

Maybe the GOP lawyers manipulating a long shot into the race actually believe Black voters are this blinkered. Maybe they’re just desperate for anything that could alter a landscape that looks so dismal for their team. Or maybe they’re in it only for the money they can make off the back of a Black man who is too vulnerable to say no — in which case they can at least claim they’re carrying on an American tradition.

Historian Carol Anderson traces the evolution of voter suppression tactics — from poll taxes to poll closures — and argues they are all rooted in White rage. (The Washington Post)

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