The longtime civil rights leader and left-wing intellectual Cornel West has been a welcome entrant into what is otherwise shaping up to be a dismal 2024 presidential race, with the Biden-Trump rematch that millions didn’t want appearing to be the most likely scenario. With support for a third US political party up to 63% in recent polls, the space is wide-open for a serious left candidate.
West is running on a left-wing, pro-worker program, and in his various media interviews, he hasn’t been afraid to come out swinging against lesser evilism. He’s staunchly opposed the policies of US imperialism in Ukraine and now Gaza. He supports Medicare for All, a cancellation of student debt, and a massive shift away from endless military spending toward spending on necessary social programs.
Trump and his core base have moved even further to the right, while the failures of what West calls Biden’s “milquetoast liberalism” to improve any aspect of life for working people, is actually contributing to people looking to Trump and the right as they search for an alternative to Biden.
In order for West’s campaign to realize its potential to mobilize left and progressive voters, it needs to break out of its mostly online existence. Right now, Cornel West simply isn’t on the radar of millions of particularly young voters who are likely to be enthusiastic about a left-wing activist standing up to the two parties of big business. Building large dynamic rallies and events that attract the attention of broader sections of working people and youth should be the overriding focus of the campaign.
Campaign At A Crossroads
However, Cornel West’s recent announcement that he is withdrawing from the Green Party nomination represents a very serious mistake by the West campaign. Whatever their weaknesses, the Greens crucially already have ballot access in 17 states plus the District of Columbia. In 2020 the Green Party managed to get their candidate’s name printed on the ballot in 28 states, and in 2016 they achieved ballot access in 44 states. By leaving the Greens, the West campaign is faced with the herculean task of starting the expensive and laborious process of fulfilling the requirements to gain ballot access, which are different in each state, from scratch. Without his name on the ballot in most states, West will be seen as a much less serious candidate and won’t be effective in marshaling the largest possible leftwing independent vote.
The strength of US capitalism means that the two-party system in the United States has been until recently the most stable political establishment in the world. Making it difficult for third parties to gain ballot access is one of the tactics the establishment uses to minimize the threat of political forces outside of the two party system, and perpetuate the idea that the Democrats and Republicans are the only viable political parties. In order to have Cornel West’s name appear on the ballot in as many states as possible, and truly represent a credible alternative to the two parties of big business, West’s campaign will need to rapidly ramp up to build a mighty volunteer apparatus to gather signatures for ballot access. A transformative approach to fundraising will also need to be put in place to pay for ballot access fees, plus staff and all the costs associated with fighting for ballot access plus running a serious on-the-ground campaign.
It seems evident that the West campaign recognizes the fundraising crisis they are facing, as West recently defended his campaign’s decision to accept the maximum donation from right wing billionaire real-estate developer Harlan Crow. This decision has already undermined West’s credibility and will be extremely difficult to walk back from. An obvious first step West should take is to immediately return the money and pledge not to accept a dime from enemies of the working class like Crow.
In fact, the challenges facing the West campaign are so significant, that West should set aside whatever differences he has with the Green Party and immediately begin discussions with them to return to the Greens’ nomination process. It would undoubtedly be challenging for West and for the Greens to reverse course at this stage. However, it is far too important for the development of a left alternative to the Democrats for West not to work with the Greens and utilize both the jump start they have on ballot access, and their experience in winning access in more states.
Desperate Need For A Left Alternative
If the Cornel West campaign does not rapidly transform itself into an exciting and dynamic force that is rapidly gaining strength and set to have widespread ballot access, it’s in danger of sliding into irrelevance. But nature abhors a vacuum, and vaccine skeptic Robert F Kennedy Jr. is stepping into space that should be filled by a left-wing candidate. RFK, who opposes Medicare for All, and is increasingly finding common cause with right populism on some issues, is much better known as an independent presidential candidate than Cornel West is.
There’s a real risk that voters who lean left on many issues and who are disgusted with the Democrats and Republicans look to RFK because he’s the best known independent in the race, despite his rightward trajectory. RFK amassed $11 million in donations in the immediate aftermath of announcing his candidacy was leaving the Democratic Party primary. Getting onto the ballot in all 50 states is a complicated operation for any campaign, but undoubtedly, the millions of dollars that RFK’s campaign has on hand, some of it raised at billionaire-hosted fundraisers, make the task much easier.
With Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the rest of the Squad fully capitulating to Biden and the Democratic establishment, left and progressive voters who are sick and tired of the Democrats’ false promises and litany of defeats-without-a-fight are stuck between a rock and a hard place. A vibrant and exciting Cornel West campaign that popularizes a concrete program of left demands would have the potential to advance the idea that what’s needed is a new party that is completely independent of big business and fights for working people. The 2024 election race will likely feature one of the most hated figures in American politics in Donald Trump and among the weakest incumbent presidents in history. It’s up to the left wing and independent Cornel West campaign to step into the void.