It’s not difficult to see why Silicon Valley’s most high-profile boy prodigy would want to apply for the job. At age 32, he already wields an extraordinary amount of power over Facebook’s estimated 1.8 billion monthly active users. As someone who has managed a significant portion of the online population since college, it makes sense that he’d get so rich and bored that eventually he’d want to apply his skill set to public office. A Facebook proxy statement signed last spring gave Zuckerberg permission to run for office while still controlling the company. He used to be an atheist, but now he might be Jewish. Barack Obama’s campaign manager in 2008, David Plouffe, was recently hired by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (Priscilla and Mark’s limited liability company) as head of policy and advocacy. On top of all that, people close to the Facebook CEO and cofounder have reportedly said he “wants to be emperor.” So yeah. There’s that.
As they say in Silicon Valley, this is a space to watch. So today we launch a new recurring column named “Zuck 4 Prez,” in which The Ringer collects and interprets the crumbs left behind by Zuckerberg as he travels the globe and preaches the gospel of his social network.
There’s already plenty of evidence from the past couple of weeks to pick through. Most convincing to Zuckerberg 2020 theorists is his recent public relations tour to rural America. Earlier this month, he posted that his New Year’s resolution for 2017 was “to have visited and met people in every state in the U.S. by the end of the year.” Naturally, when he flew to Texas to testify in a lawsuit over some corporate shenanigans relating to the acquisition of Oculus, he used the trip as an opportunity to take a small-town-diner tour from Dallas–Fort Worth to Waco. The visits were documented by at least one of the “dozen or so people” who reportedly manage Zuckerberg’s Facebook page and turned into a post that included a handful of photos and a blurb about “community,” “young moms,” and “ministers” that sounded suspiciously like a stump speech. Dude even tried the local kolache.
While this might scream “auditioning for the primaries,” let’s note that Zuckerberg’s desire to meet average Americans is congruent with his goals as CEO of a publicly traded company. Since the Facebook IPO, Zuckerberg has made a conscious effort to subtly scrub away his reputation as a red-Solo-cup-wielding college bro who originally just wanted to rate the attractiveness of his Harvard classmates. Post-IPO, he made a concerted effort to improve his public speaking skills. By 2014, he was comfortable enough to begin hosting regular “town halls” that included a variety of softball questions from audience members. (Sample: “What’s your favorite emoji?” Answer: “cactus.”) In 2016, he decided to host a conservative summit at his company’s Menlo Park, California, mothership after accusations that the company’s employees and algorithms favored liberal viewpoints. Very few media outlets cried “presidential run” then. But no one expected a businessman with zero political experience to become president in 2017 either.
In this flood of speculation, some have argued that all this PR work is simply a way for Zuckerberg to improve Facebook’s image in the eyes of its often-skeptical users. Since Zuckerberg has many more states to visit, and at least a few more lawsuits to win, we can expect plenty more hints about what he will or will not do four years from now. Welcome to a new era when all your favorite power-hungry businessmen feel emboldened to pursue government office.