Graham: Lessons from Kid Rock’s non-bid for senator

Senator Rock won’t be happening, but Rock’s publicity stunt is a possible glimpse into our political future

Kid Rock isn’t running for senator.

He revealed the news earlier this week during an interview on Howard Stern’s SiriusXM radio show, but the evidence has really been there all along. Would Kid Rock, the middle-finger wagging, rock-and-rolling Detroit son of a gun really be a candidate for a Michigan Senate seat?

"(Expletive) no, I’m not running for Senate, are you (expletive) kidding me?” is how Rock put it to Stern. “Who couldn’t figure that out?”

A lot of people, apparently.

Chalk it up to the times we live in. But what began as a joke, a way to juice his mentions around the release of new music, was taken very seriously not only by fans, but by politicians and especially the media, who turned the story into a political circus.

Now that the circus is over, what does it mean for Rock, and what does it say about the rest of us?

Rock’s initial Senate announcement — accompanied by photos of him looking the role, and merchandise emblazoned with “Kid Rock for Senate” logos — came in August, just a few days before Rock released a pair of new singles and videos. That should have been the tip-off. It’s tough to make noise in the music industry these days, especially when you’re not a bubbly pop star or a rapper with Lil’ in front of your name, and Rock, 46, found a clever way to stoke interest in his brand before dropping new music.

Except it didn’t end there. After media outlets, this one included, took Rock’s announcement very seriously, they pointed out Rock had not done the proper protocol to enter the race. Questions over his campaign funding were raised. And rather than backing off, Rock doubled down, pushing back on the press using callbacks to “fake news” and stoking his base. The charade not only continued, it gained momentum.

Polls were taken, and Rock scored high. He seemed to be posing a legitimate threat to sitting Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and another celebrity political shakeup seemed to be brewing in our own backyard. What began as a gag had a life of its own.

Rock’s supposed political aspirations became a cornerstone of his live show, which he performed for six nights during the opening of Little Caesars Arena in September. Each night he gave a stump speech to crowds that laid out talking points of his agenda — in rhyme, no less — including denouncements of Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan and a statement where he said “whatever you have between your legs should determine the bathroom that you use.”

He never said whether he was really running — although he was introduced by an off-stage voice as “the next senator of the great state of Michigan” (and brought to the stage by “Hail to the Chief,” which is reserved for the president) — but he also never said he wasn’t running. And given the coverage he was getting, you couldn’t blame him for not wanting to throw a blanket on the fire.

Of course it was fake news all along, and during this week’s Stern interview, Rock said even people in his inner circle were questioning what was what. That’s how much the line can be blurred these days, and that’s how quickly a joke can turn real.

Sifting through the rubble of this never-was political bid, several lessons emerge. One is that politics are so topsy-turvy these days that anything is possible, and it’s way too early to dismiss those rumors of an all-celebrity candidate field in the 2020 presidential election, complete lack of political experience be damned. (Will Tom Hanks take on Donald Trump? Only if he can get through Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson first!) Society has been headed this way ever since Us magazine went from a monthly to a weekly, and this is the reality of the world in which we now live.

Actual politicians should be taking note. It’s no longer about working your way up the political ladder, it’s about the power of celebrity. If Kid Rock could shake up the race as much as he did while making a joke, imagine what would happen if, or when, he gets serious. (Senator goals aside, Rock could probably run for mayor of Clarkston tomorrow and get elected.)

Another lesson is that Rock, who had for the most part been a unifying figure in Michigan, is something else now. By stepping so boldly into the political field he alienated many casual fans, who before would never think to boo him at a Detroit Pistons game, which is what happened when Rock showed up at the Pistons’ home opener earlier this month (as Rock pointed out on Stern, there were plenty of cheers mixed in as well). That’s the risk of putting yourself out there, of speaking your mind, but Rock has never apologized before and he’s not about to start now.

Oh, and also Rock has a new album, “Sweet Southern Sugar,” due out Friday. This whole stunt was meant to raise awareness of the album, you’ll remember. But as these things usually go, it became about everything else.

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