And while West seemed flattered at first, tweeting, "Friends writing me in" on Oct. 8, 24 hours later, his campaign issued a press release clarifying the situation. "I am campaigning to be the next president of our great country -- not vice president," read the statement, which referred to the inclusion of his name as part of De La Fuente's bid as "unauthorized" and "deceitful."
"The political party in California that listed my name as its VP candidate has done so without my knowledge. Californians, I ask for your vote for president and urge you to write in 'Kanye West.'"
More than four months into his bid and with just three weeks to go until election day (Nov. 3), West released his first campaign video on Monday, which leans heavily into his prayer-based message.
But speaking to Billboard on Tuesday (Oct. 13), De La Fuente explains that not only was including West not his decision, he is actively against it. "They chose me as the top of the ticket and they looked within their structure and picked Mr. West as vice president," he says about the AIP's decision at their August nominating convention to go with West as the No. 2; De La Fuente is on the ballot in 16 states and is eligible as a write-in in 12.
The chairman of AIP executive committee, Markham Robinson, tells Billboard that the party picked West because of his high-profile connections -- including on-and-off supporter and friend Tesla's Elon Musk -- as well as for his political views, such as his Bible-based policy pronouncements, and his popularity among voters aged 18-25. "Rocky may not like Kanye, but we're both very happy with the attention [the pick] is drawing," he says of the 40-plus national news stories about the odd-couple pairing that have raised the party's profile and generated a publicity windfall.
Among West's stated policies are restoring prayer in the classroom, restructuring the educational system to serve at-risk students and provide vocational training, criminal and policing reform, an America-first foreign policy and support for faith-based groups, among other priorities.
Like De La Fuente, Robinson says the party was not able to get in touch with West before, during or since the August convention and nomination -- which he says West did not solicit -- but that they even briefly considered making picking him for the top of the ticket in California. "We like Kanye. We liked a lot of the content on his platform, especially his scriptural references ... but we just could not reach him," he says.
In the end, the party has the authority to choose the ticket, and just as De La Fuente's preferred VP is author Darcy Richardson (A Nation Divided: The 1968 Presidential Campaign), who is on the ballot alongside the entrepreneur in the other states where he is eligible, Robinson is adamant that AIP is happy with De La Fuente, but would not have nominated "that person [Richardson] for anything."
"I was not consulted that he would be my running mate, so to me it was a complete surprise," De La Fuente says, noting that West's wife, Kim Kardashian West, has spoken in public about the rapper's struggle with mental health issues and bipolar disorder, which De La Fuente believes believes makes him "not stable enough to be a presidential or vice presidential pick."
"I just think it’s a joke," says De La Fuente, who does, however, see an upside in putting up the most diverse slate ever in California to take on two 70-plus white men in Trump and Democratic candidate former VP Joe Biden. "It's the first time in U.S. history with a brown candidate at the top and an African-American candidate on the ballot," he says. What gets under his skin, though, is West encouraging his followers to write the rapper's name in on the Golden State ballot, an effort De La Fuente warns is wasted.
"He's not qualified to be a write-in, so anyone who writes him in ... their vote will not get counted. For him to say to people to write him in shows me he doesn't really know what that means. It's stupidity," he says, adding that he has not tried to reach out to West so far and that the rapper has not contacted him either.
Robinson says that the party is "not upset with" De La Fuente for impugning the choice of West for the AIP California ballot because he fully realizes that AIP has no reasonable prospect of having an impact on the vote totals in the state.
Billboard has reached out to West for comment.
While West has made several statements suggesting his run is an attempt to draw votes away from Biden, De La Fuente also doesn't think that's meaningful in the state with the highest delegate total (55), where the Democratic candidate has received more than 60 percent of the vote in the past three elections. Because the majority of California voters are Democrats, a third party candidate is more likely to take votes away from Democrats rather than Republicans, but those votes would likely be inconsequential.
"He should be flattered he was chosen by the American Independent Party," says De La Fuente, who has launched numerous mayoral, congressional and presidential campaigns since 2016, including running for Senate in nine states in 2018 and qualifying to appear on ballots for president in 40 states in the 2016 election.
For now, De La Fuente fully expects the AIP -- which he says has 600,000 followers in California -- to come in a distant third to the Democrats and Republicans in California, potentially furthering his goal of breaking the two-party stranglehold on national political office. "If Kanye would support the ticket minorities would, no question, speak and tell Democrats and Republicans that we can't put up with this anymore," he says. "But even if he spends $100 million tomorrow in California politics it wouldn't make a difference."