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Joe Exotic for President: Why Not? 
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Joe Exotic for President: Why Not? 

The convicted felon is the candidate we need and the leader we deserve.

A pair of tigers rescued in from Joe Exotic's G.W. Exotic Animal Park at their new home in Colorado, 2020. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

In case you were wondering: He’s in. 

I mean, of course, newly announced 2024 presidential contender Joseph Allen Maldonado, a.k.a. Joe Exotic, a.k.a. the Tiger King, a.k.a. the reality-television grotesque who actually had the No. 1 show in the nation, with truly unbelievable ratings: Tiger King had more than 34 million viewers in its first 10 days, nearly five times the average viewership of Celebrity Apprentice in its 2014-15 season. If ratings are what matters, then Joe Exotic is surely the best-qualified presidential candidate since Dwight Eisenhower: D-Day got great ratings. 

No? Okay, then. 

Why not Joe Exotic? 

Isn’t being a reality-television star a presidential qualification? There are enough Americans who believe that to elect a president, are there not? Are we doing the democracy thing or aren’t we? 

Let’s not be snobs about it. Sure, he looks like a guy you’d see walking south alongside the northbound lanes of I-35 just past the Lake Murray State Park exit in skull-print hoodie pushing a baby stroller with a missing wheel—but we are done, done, done with those fancy elites condescending to Real Americans™ from behind the safety of their Audi windshields as they speed down the road to the Harvard Club or Trader Joe’s or a job or wherever. If having a ridiculous mullet means you can’t be president, then the current guy is disqualified; if a ridiculous bleach-and-dye job means you can’t be president, then somebody explain the last guy. 

(Really. Somebody explain the last guy. I tried my best.)

Yes, he happens to be locked up at the moment. So, what? Marion “The B— Set Me Up” Barry did not serve as mayor of Washington during his incarceration. Yet he served almost right up until he was actually dispatched to the pokey—he suffered the only election loss of his career right after his sentencing—and was officially a candidate again two months after his release, first winning a seat on the city council and then returning to the mayor’s office two years later. Campaign slogan: “He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.” Indeed, he was. The example stuck: Right now, Washington enjoys the services of elected advisory commissioner Joel Caston, who is incarcerated. (His election opponents included four other current prisoners.) There are plenty of criminals serving in elected office—and some of them have even been convicted. 

What else can you say against Joe Exotic? That he doesn’t seem to have been much of a businessman? That he went through an embarrassing bankruptcy? That he doesn’t seem always to be exactly precisely truthful when telling stories about his life and his exploits? At least he’s not a plagiarist. 

What else? That he doesn’t seem to be able to remain faithful in a relationship? He has only been married twice—one fewer time than Donald Trump—and he has exactly as many ex-husbands walking the Earth as does Jill Biden.

Is it that he’s just kind of gross? Well, kids, let me tell you about a magical time called the 1990s. The country was booming and the world was mostly at peace, and the president of these United States was, incredibly enough, Hillary Clinton’s husband. His time as governor of Arkansas looked a lot like some of the kind of Southern sub-Gothic shenanigans that made Joe Exotic a household name. Not everything was hunky-dory in the go-go Nineties—there were a lot of white people with dreadlocks—but you like the Internet, don’t you?

I suspect that if Joe Exotic were elected president, he’d spend his time in more or less the same way Bill Clinton did—and that didn’t turn out too badly. Sure, it was embarrassing, but the NASDAQ was on fire. 

Besides, the USS Unseemly is a ship that has sailed, right up the Potomac, and more than once.  

Maybe Joe Exotic isn’t where we’d like him to be when it comes to Ukraine or entitlement reform—which would make him just another newfangled Republican.  

In potentially related news, up-and-coming New York GOP political titan George Santos has filed his reelection papers. My first reaction is that he’s probably not of sufficiently high moral character to be Joe Exotic’s running-mate, but I am reliably informed that we’re all going to loosen up a little in 2024. 

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Kevin D. Williamson is national correspondent at The Dispatch and is based in Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 15 years as a writer and editor at National Review, worked as the theater critic at the New Criterion, and had a long career in local newspapers. He is also a writer in residence at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Kevin is not reporting on the world outside Washington for his Wanderland newsletter, you can find him at the rifle range or reading a book about literally almost anything other than politics.