s Kanye West’s bizarre presidential campaign has moved from Twitter sideshow to potential spoiler—the billionaire rapper this week released a website and campaign platform as he moves to get on the ballot in pivotal states—those around him increasingly worry about his mental health issues. And specifically whether one consigliere is trying to exploit them. According to multiple sources, White House senior advisor Jared Kushner has been speaking with West regularly since his July 4 tweet declaring that he was running for president.
While Republican operatives rush to try get him on ballots across the country, the New York Times reported earlier today that Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, met with West last weekend in Telluride, Colorado. The connection goes much further. West has been telling associates that he and Kushner speak “almost daily.” Forbes spoke with four people who have direct access to either West or Kushner, including two with direct knowledge of their conversations.
One thing that particularly upsets those close to the Yeezy sneaker mogul, who is openly bipolar, is his apparent delusion about his chances of winning: When I pointed out to West last week during an interview that he won’t be on enough ballots to win, and thus seemed intent on running a spoiler campaign designed to hurt presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, he responded, “I’m not going to argue with you.” But a few hours after the story appeared, West responded with a change of heart: “THE GOAL IS TO WIN,” he blared in a tweet that was liked more than 260,000 times.
And that seems to be the message that Kushner has been feeding him: “Jared’s scared and doesn’t want me to run because he knows that I can win,” West has told numerous associates after his conversations with the president’s son-in-law, who also serves as de facto chief of Trump’s reelection campaign. That message, the sources close to West acknowledge, is the exact one that will embolden West to stay in the race. “If you know him for more than 20 minutes, you know that will work,” says one West confidant. Adds another: “He’s just like a kid. The more you tell him he can’t do a thing, the more he’ll do it. . . . he has a tremendous drive to prove people wrong.”
Kushner seems to have an outsize influence over West. Their relationship helped bring West and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, to the White House for an instantly famous Oval Office meeting, and they collaborated on ideas for sentencing reform.
He’s mentally ill. When you have people around him who see him as an opportunity, they create a very, very bad scenario.
When I interviewed West on July 7, three days after telling the world he was running, he spent the first hour musing about whether he would actually follow through. The first person he told me he would consult: Kushner. At that time, West also renounced his support for Trump. “I am taking the red hat off, with this interview.” However, he curiously held back on criticizing the president, past a dig about Trump hiding in the bunker during the Lafayette Park protests. “I was just talking to Jared,” he subsequently told me. “It makes it seem like I’m attacking them. Trump’s not attacking me, and I’m not attacking him, even in this. I think it’s really nice to have a civil [competition], where people’s friends go up and play ball, play basketball without someone going to the hospital afterwards, you know?” Biden apparently wasn’t invited to the game: West needed no prompting to go after the former vice president, whom he derided as “not special.”
During that interview, West relayed the details of a previous conversation that he’d had with Kushner. “One time I talked to Jared Kushner, who was saying, ‘We don’t have Black leaders—we just have hustlers.’ Why? Because they killed all the Black leaders.” When we reached out later that day, before publication, to fact-check the article, West petitioned, unsuccessfully, to have the anecdote removed. “I love Jared,” West said. “I was just . . . that’s my boy, you know? That’s really my boy. So I prefer to not drop his name.”
West did not respond today to messages asking for comment, nor did Kushner’s press team at the White House. “We have no knowledge of anything Kanye West is doing or who is doing it for him,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said early this month, a statement that’s clearly untrue. The president himself echoed that message to reporters at the White House: “I like Kanye very much,“ adding, “I have nothing to do with him being on the ballot. I’m not involved.”
The White House gambit, those close to him say, has accelerated West’s mental issues (unquestionably brilliant, he has previously told Forbes that he considers his bipolar condition a “superpower”). “He’s mentally ill,” says a West friend. “When you have people around him who have the best intentions and don’t need anything from him, you can steer him when he’s in that space into a positive place. When you have people around him who see him as an opportunity, they create a very, very bad scenario.”
Some close to West feel that Kushner now falls into that latter camp in ways that flirt with exploitation—concerning, after Kardashian West asked publicly for “compassion and empathy.” One described their understanding of Kushner’s conversations with West as “reverse psychology.” Others prescribe less malicious intent, though that narrative would require a level of naiveté that would rank up there with sitting in a meeting at Trump Tower with Russians who promise to have dirt on Hillary Clinton.
“Jared, why are you meeting with him?” asks one source. “Tell him, ‘Hey, man, I saw you’re running for president—let’s talk when the election’s over.’”
I am the chief content officer of Forbes Media and editor of Forbes Magazine, and believe strongly that entrepreneurial capitalism and market-based thinking can solve the world’s problems. This is my second stint at Forbes — between 1991 and 1997, I was a reporter, a staff writer (five cover stories), associate editor and Washington bureau chief. In between, I caught the start-up bug: I co-founded P.O.V. Magazine (Adweek’s Startup of the Year), and then launched Doubledown Media (Trader Monthly, Dealmaker, Private Air, etc.). As a fattening hobby, I have reviewed restaurants for various magazines since college (and was a National Magazine Award finalist for my wine writing). I used to think chronicling the world’s greatest business minds made me a great entrepreneur, but I now realize my time as an entrepreneur made me an acute business journalist. For the full story, check out my book, just out in paperback, The Zeroes: My Misadventures In the Decade Wall Street Went Insane.