Why you should care
Because he’s proving that it’s not anti-conservative to point out discrimination.
It was the MTV Music Video Awards, and Kanye West had just uttered the words lingering on every celebrity gazillionaire’s mind after watching the Donald’s run in the summer of 2015: “I have decided in 2020 to run for president.” As West delivered his sermon from Los Angeles, a little-known conservative texted his political group chat. Why not line the path for Yeezus?
“Nobody objected to it,” says Eugene Craig III today — or, perhaps, took it seriously. That was all the permission the young Baltimore native needed to register the Ready for Kanye PAC, in a move as brash as the man he purported to fund. Craig, a Black entrepreneur and Rand Paul–esque Republican, is just as willing to shout “Black Lives Matter” as he is to bash Obamacare. Like West, he thrills in what seem to be contradictions in the public eye and excels at grabbing headlines. Hours after registering Ready for Kanye, Craig had received 27 media requests, a number he says crested to 130 radio, print and television interviews by the end of the week.
Then a mere vice-chair for the Maryland Republican Party, Craig has since become a political consultant, and two candidates he advised won primaries last year. He’s also the owner of a business that free enterprise and social justice warriors alike can appreciate: the Buy Black app, which connects customers to locally owned African-American businesses. Now he’s plotting a path forward to relevance in a state that typically doesn’t give much credence to conservatives. “He opens some doors that traditionally haven’t been open to Republicans,” says Dirk Haire, chairman of the state GOP, noting that the Ready for Kanye PAC was received well in typically inhospitable sources. “We’re getting positive press from Rolling Stone. Why is that a bad thing?”
While some Republicans “understand blackness,” many “not only don’t have a point of reference, but they outright reject it.”
Craig is over the culture wars, and would have the party focus on its strength, in his view: sound fiscal conservatism. He may be a glimpse at the future face of the Republican Party, that mostly under-30 generation with less cultural moorings than their parents. Whether his own party is ready for that is another question — one that Craig will have to answer as he presents an uncomfortable fit for both the left and his colleagues on the right. “Black Democrats are skeptical of you because you’re different from the norm,” Craig says. And while some Republicans “understand blackness,” many “not only don’t have a point of reference, but they outright reject it,” he adds. As Haire puts it, “not everyone has appreciated” the Kanye-loving activist or his liberal-friendly stances, like an insistence on greater accountability for police shootings. Yet despite all that headline-grabbing bluster, Craig is “a solutionist,” says Trump transition team member and former RNC senior adviser Elroy Sailor: “He cuts through all the chatter,” the prominent Black Republican adds.
Over chicken wings at the Tilted Kilt, the Hooters of Irish pubs, Craig explains his laissez-faire philosophies as a scantily clad blonde in plaid delivers his meal. His ideology is shaped by libertarian minds like Michigan Congressman Justin Amash. The former athlete — he played football, basketball and track in high school — learns strategy from his weekly online poker habit, “my only sport at this point.”
On policy, Craig’s eager to talk criminal justice reform and charter schools. The son of a Veterans Affairs doctor father and microbiologist mother, Craig never attended public school. And while he opposes abortion, he thinks the GOP should focus on family planning and prenatal support services rather than chasing a Roe v. Wade overturn. He also believes Maryland Republicans should lead the charge on legalizing marijuana — a “revenue booster.” If conservatives don’t get on board with what he sees as an inevitability, “every young person in the damn state comes out for it — and they don’t go for Republicans.” That tactical mindset will matter in a midterm set to decide the fate of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and of the Republican-minority statehouse, which saw historic GOP gains in 2014. “That’s only going to go up if we play our cards right,” Craig says, but “the party has to rebrand itself as something for more than old white folk longing for a time that’s gone past.” The Maryland Democratic Party declined comment.
That doesn’t mean Craig lacks a relationship to political history, though his inspiration is more recent: South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Ashley Bell, a Trump administration staffer and former RNC strategist, and even channels. As a “26-year-old Black guy who drives a Mercedes-Benz,” he particularly enjoyed Scott’s speech, delivered from the Senate floor last July, about being pulled over by the cops. His point: It’s not anti-conservative to notice discrimination — a message that may assist him if he shoots for Maryland’s state delegate in legislative district 8, covering White Marsh and sharing the county in which Freddie Gray died in April of 2015 (He technically hasn’t announced a run yet, but … “it’s going to happen,” he says.)
For now, he’s paying the bills with political consultancy gigs and the Buy Black app. He’s handed over the reins to Ready for Kanye, which purposefully didn’t raise any money, in case they had to return it to an unwilling West, who did not respond to comment for this piece. The Grand Old Party “wanted my head on a platter,” he says, for pushing what might be read either as postmodern political culture jamming of the sort that Trump, West, the Kardashians and Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos excel at. Craig figures “a party that can take Donald Trump seriously can take Kanye West seriously.” But he thinks he can afford to poke a couple of bears. “I get some leeway for being a Black Republican.”