Could Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg run for president?
In January, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that his personal challenge for 2017 would be to visit and meet people in each of the 50 United States by the end of the year. Some of his stops have included a visit to a cattle ranch in South Dakota and a shift at the Ford plant in Michigan.
With this and his hiring of Joel Benenson, a Democratic pollster, some have speculated that Zuckerberg may run for president in 2020. Is it really such a crazy idea to think that Facebook’s founder could one day occupy the Oval Office? We’re not the only ones trying to figure that out.
Let’s look at his background first. Zuckerberg attended Harvard University from 2002 to 2005 but dropped out to run his new startup Facebook. To say the company has been successful is an understatement; as of May 2017, Facebook had 2 billion monthly active users. The company saw revenue of $27.6 billion in 2016.
And here’s an interesting tidbit to consider: In May 2019, Zuckerberg will turn 35, which is the minimum age to hold the office of president.
Zuckerberg's political views
Zuckerberg is registered to vote in Santa Clara County, but does so without a declared party preference, so his political affiliation is somewhat hazy. He has spoken out against some of the policies of the Trump White House such as its stance on immigration and Trump’s tweet about banning transgender people from the military. Zuckerberg is a supporter of FWD.us, a tech-industry-backed immigration rights advocacy group. He has also publicly criticized Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. And like many in the tech industry, Zuckerberg has voiced support for universal basic income.
Recode has a good breakdown on some of Zuckerberg’s possible political positions
But he has also supported close Trump confidantes. For instance, Zuckerberg hosted a political fundraiser for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2013. His company supported the Republican National Convention and Zuckerberg also met with conservative figures last May, including radio host Glenn Beck and former Trump consultant Barry Bennett.
How would he do it?
Zuckerberg has the financial resources to run for president, with a personal net worth of $69.9 billion, and he already has a formidable staff at his disposal. David Plouffe, who was the campaign adviser for President Obama in 2008, works as a president of policy and advocacy for Zuckerberg’s foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Ken Mehlman, George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign adviser and former RNC chairman, is the chairman of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s policy advisory board. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine’s former advisor Amy Dudley and President Obama’s former press adviser Ben LaBolt also work for Zuckerberg’s initiative in advisory positions.
There is no clear indication thus far that any of the above would be interested in returning to politics, but it’s certainly an enviable braintrust that could advise and coach Zuckerberg if he decides to run.
Why would he run?
As evidenced by the successful campaigns of people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Franken, Ronald Reagan, and yes, even Donald Trump, it is no longer uncommon for an actor or performer to seek public office. But Zuckerberg is a notoriously private person, and has not established a recognizable public persona. There are probably many among Facebook’s 2 billion monthly users who have never even heard Zuckerberg speak publicly. Even though they “know” him, they may not be able to identify with him politically. At least, not yet.
So who’s pushing for Zuckerberg 2020?
A newly formed progressive Super PAC named “Disrupt for America” is trying to get Zuckerberg to run. The group has done focus group work on his potential candidacy and think his measured political statements will allow him to have some flexibility.
What do the pundits/press say?
Zuckerberg has said he is not running for President, but the political press has been debating the issue for months now...
Sarah Jones of the New Republic thinks Zuckerberg should stay away from public office.. “If he possesses a coherent political philosophy, there’s no evidence of it. He didn’t even have the moral backbone to oppose Peter Thiel’s presence on his company’s board,” she wrote.
Keith Spencer, an editor for Salon Magazine, says that Zuckerberg has been able to build a business built on emotionally manipulating humans for profit. “If this is how Zuckerberg’s empire treats its subjects, it is hard to see how, or why, his attitude would change once he is in possession of political power."
Zara Stone, a contributor for Forbes, believes Zuckerberg would be a great presidential candidate, but not at the moment. She said he could be a perfect candidate for a run in 2024. “It’s not the traditional route to the presidency, but his very public life and very public wins and losses create a transparency around Zuckerberg that’s very appealing,” she said.
Bradley Tusk, a regulatory adviser for tech companies and former campaign manager for Michael Bloomberg, told CNN that it appears that he’s getting ready for a political campaign, and the presidency would be one of the few offices that he’s targeting. "He has so much power and influence, both through his platform and his wealth, that there are really only a handful of jobs that could conceivably even be worth his time," says Tusk.
And former Facebook employee Ezra Callahan told CNN Zuckerberg is generally a reserved person and wouldn’t fit the personality of a typical politician. "I'd be surprised if he found the political world appealing at all in that sense," he said.
Inside’s Take: Maybe someday...
Zuckerberg may run for president, but probably no time in the near future. He’s in the prime of his career and is making more money than anyone else, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Facebook is still growing, Zuckerberg has a young family and it’s not clear what the succession plan would be if he were to leave Facebook.
Although his political statements have not aligned strongly with a political party, it is likely that his statements (pro-immigration, pro-education) would resonate well with the Democratic party. It’s hard to predict whether Zuckerberg’s lack of political experience would help or hurt him, and ironically could depend on the performance of the similarly inexperienced President Trump.
But if he chooses to run as a Republican in 2020, he’d have to give the party good reason to back a challenge to the incumbent. If he ran as a Democrat, he’d do well to put effort into winning over the Bernie Sanders voting base, many of whom may be looking for a new champion to harness the Feel the Bern sentiment of the 2016 campaign.
Should Zuckerberg run? And would you vote for him? Hit REPLY and tell us what you think.