Can a Zombie-Powered Presidential Candidate Go Legit?

This is Vermin Supreme, and this is how he campaigns for president. Of the United States. Of America.

BOSTON, MA --Perrenial political candidate Vermin Supreme speaks through a megaphone at a Zombie March on May 18, 2014. 
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Alex Seitz-Wald
May 22, 2014, 1 a.m.

BO­STON — The serenity of a per­fect spring af­ter­noon was in­ter­rup­ted Sat­urday when hun­dreds of bloody zom­bies in­vaded Bo­ston Com­mon, storm­ing across couples’ pic­nic blankets, halt­ing busk­ers’ gui­tar strum­ming, and ter­ri­fy­ing par­ents in town to vis­it their sons and daugh­ters at col­lege.

Provid­ing the apo­ca­lyptic soundtrack for Bo­ston’s an­nu­al Zom­bie March — aton­al feed­back broad­cast through his mega­phone — is a bearded man wear­ing a boot on his head, a man who re­sembles some kind of de­men­ted Santa Claus. This is Ver­min Su­preme, and this is how he cam­paigns for pres­id­ent. Of the United States. Of Amer­ica.

Su­preme, an ec­cent­ric per­form­ance artist and per­en­ni­al polit­ic­al can­did­ate, had a break­through year dur­ing his latest bid for the pres­id­ency in 2012 (former New York gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” Mc­Mil­lan was his run­ning mate). Su­preme fin­ished third in the New Hamp­shire Demo­crat­ic primary with 833 votes, and could be seen taunt­ing Newt Gin­grich and Rick San­tor­um out­side their events.

For the show, he was pro­filed in ma­jor pub­lic­a­tions the world over, im­mor­tal­ized in mer­chand­ise and In­ter­net memes, be­came the sub­ject of a new doc­u­ment­ary and up­com­ing series of video games, and has star­ted giv­ing speeches at col­leges on the his­tory of polit­ic­al satire. Even High­lights magazine, the whole­some staple of pe­di­at­ric wait­ing rooms, fea­tured a car­toon wiz­ard hold­ing a tooth­brush that seems de­riv­at­ive of Su­preme.

So how could Su­preme (that is his real, leg­al name), who has been mock­ing the polit­ic­al sys­tem by mock­ing him­self for years in in­creas­ingly over-the-top stunts, pos­sibly one-up his 2012 suc­cess? For 2016, he wants to do something even cra­zi­er and more brazen than any­thing he’s at­temp­ted be­fore: Go le­git — at least sort of.

Su­preme is run­ning for pres­id­ent again in 2016, but this time he hopes to earn enough sup­port to se­cure po­ten­tially hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in match­ing funds from the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, cour­tesy of tax­pay­ers who choose to chip in $3 on their an­nu­al tax re­turn.

To meet the fed­er­al re­quire­ments for the money, Su­preme will need to raise at least $5,000 in small dona­tions from at least 20 states, for a min­im­um total of $100,000. If he suc­ceeds, the gov­ern­ment will match every con­tri­bu­tion un­der $250 dol­lar-for-dol­lar, mean­ing the man whose plat­form in­cludes a zom­bie-based en­ergy plan would sud­denly have more than $200,000 to spend on psy­che­del­ic ads like this. (He would not qual­i­fy for match­ing funds in a gen­er­al elec­tion).

For 2016, he wants to do something even cra­zi­er and more brazen than any­thing he’s at­temp­ted be­fore: Go le­git — at least sort of.

“It would be a real mark of le­git­im­acy,” he tells me.

It would also be a tall or­der for someone whose pre­vi­ous pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns have been nar­rowly fo­cused on New Hamp­shire, and who has nev­er raised more than a few thou­sands dol­lars, mean­ing he didn’t even have to file a re­port with the FEC.

But Su­preme is con­fid­ent he can turn his In­ter­net fame and grow­ing grass­roots fan­dom in­to something re­sem­bling a na­tion­al cam­paign. He re­cently em­barked on a 20-city tour to build sup­port, where he found will­ing vo­lun­teers in far-flung loc­ales. He’s already lined up po­ten­tial state dir­ect­ors in Ok­lahoma, North Car­o­lina, Illinois, In­di­ana, Ten­ness­ee, New Hamp­shire, and his home state of Mas­sachu­setts, and says there are many more to come soon.

He real­izes how this might look to some and wor­ries that, if he is suc­cess­ful, he’ll be used by op­pon­ents of pub­lic cam­paign fin­an­cing as Ex­hib­it A for why the sys­tem should be shut down. “That’s something I have to think about,” he says.

Non­ethe­less, at least among the 200 or 300 people who chose to spend a week­end af­ter­noon ram­pa­ging through down­town Bo­ston dressed as zom­bies, Su­preme found plenty of sup­port. As we marched west from South Sta­tion, Su­preme could hardly walk more than a dozen yards without someone — wheth­er a zom­bie or in­no­cent bystand­er — stop­ping him to take a pic­ture, shake his hand, or of­fer a word of en­cour­age­ment.

These ad­mirers are al­most ex­clus­ively young — many not even old enough to vote yet — and thor­oughly steeped in on­line cul­ture. “I re­cog­nize you from the In­ter­net!” one eager col­lege stu­dent ex­claimed in a typ­ic­al in­ter­ac­tion.

Al Gore may have in­ven­ted the In­ter­net, Howard Dean may have pi­on­eered its use in polit­ic­al cam­paigns, and Barack Obama may have per­fec­ted it, but Ver­min Su­preme is the only pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate whose en­tire pub­lic ex­ist­ence was born, lives, and could die thanks to the World Wide Web. Its den­iz­ens are his base, and without them he would just be a crazy guy with a boot on his head. “So go the geeks, so go the coun­try,” he said.

Su­preme can pin­point the ex­act mo­ment when he went from “man to meme,” as he likes to say. It was Decem­ber 19, 2011, at the Less­er Known Pres­id­en­tial Can­did­ates For­um hos­ted by the New Hamp­shire In­sti­tute of Polit­ics at St. An­selm Col­lege. With the famed boot atop his head and a ludicrous num­ber of ties around his neck, Su­preme sprinkled glit­ter on so­cial con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ist Ran­dall Terry, who was also run­ning as a Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, ex­plain­ing that Je­sus told him to turn Terry gay.

Videos of the glit­ter bomb­ing garnered mil­lions of views, and Su­preme quickly be­came a fa­vor­ite on In­ter­net for­ums. “This man has my vote. Ver­min Su­preme 2012!” read one post that made it to the front page of Red­dit.

“If there aren’t more pic­tures of me on the In­ter­net, I’ll cease to ex­ist.”

But Su­preme gives spe­cial cred­it to the Bron­ies, a on­line sub­cul­ture of adult men who are fans of “My Little Pony,” for sus­tain­ing his In­ter­net fame. A key plank in Su­preme’s plat­form is to give every Amer­ic­an a pony, so the Bron­ies were a nat­ur­al source of sup­port.

Did Su­preme set out to achieve In­ter­net great­ness? “Hell no,” he said with a laugh. “If I had seen it com­ing, I would have got­ten my merch line up and run­ning soon­er.” Then, he and the horde of zom­bies who were fol­low­ing him like a de­mon­ic Pied Piper marched past the boutiques in the up­scale Co­pley Place shop­ping mall.

It’s dif­fi­cult to gauge how earn­est his sup­port is here. Most ad­mirers just seem de­lighted to see this weird per­son from the In­ter­net “IRL” — In Real Life, in on­line par­lance. And Su­preme him­self has his tongue planted firmly in cheek. As a fa­vor­ite slo­gan of his goes, “A vote for Ver­min Su­preme is a vote com­pletely wasted.”

But he does seem to tap in­to a grow­ing dis­con­tent among young people with Pres­id­ent Obama, main­stream polit­ic­al parties, and polit­ics in gen­er­al. I asked a zom­bie high school seni­or from the area if he would really cast the very first pres­id­en­tial bal­lot of his life for Su­preme, in­stead of a more ser­i­ous politi­cian. “Why not? They’re all jokes any­way,” he replied.

And Su­preme, the anti­es­tab­lish­ment­ari­an prank­ster, is happy to be an avatar of mil­len­ni­al dis­sat­is­fac­tion.

But in or­der to carry out his big plans for 2016, he’ll have to con­tin­ue to cap­ture the at­ten­tion of the fickle Red­dit user. It’s why he rode the train an hour from his home to par­ti­cip­ate in the zom­bie march.

“Meme main­ten­ance,” he ex­plained. “If there aren’t more pic­tures of me on the In­ter­net, I’ll cease to ex­ist.”

What We're Following See More »
Chaffetz Also Caves, Says He’ll Vote Trump
1 hours ago
DNC Sues RNC Over Trump’s Rigged Vote Comments
1 hours ago

The Democratic National Committee sued the Republican National Committee in U.S. District Court in New Jersey for aiding GOP nominee Donald Trump as he argues that the presidential election is "rigged." The DNC claims "that Trump's argument is designed to suppress the vote in minority communities."

Clinton Foundation Staffers Steered Biz to Bill
9 hours ago

"Two chief fundraisers for the Clinton Foundation pressed corporate donors to steer business opportunities to former President Bill Clinton as well, according to a hacked memo published Wednesday by WikiLeaks. The November 2011 memo from Douglas Band, at the time a top aide to Mr. Clinton, outlines extensive fundraising efforts that Mr. Band and a partner deployed on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and how that work sometimes translated into large speaking fees and other paid work for Mr. Clinton."

House Investigators Already Sharpening Their Spears for Clinton
19 hours ago

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz plans to spend "years, come January, probing the record of a President Hillary Clinton." Chaffetz told the Washington Post: “It’s a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”

Clinton Super PAC Enters the House Fray
23 hours ago

Priorities USA, the super PAC aligned with the Clinton campaign, which has already gotten involved in two Senate races, is now expanding into House races. The group released a 30 second spot which serves to hit Donald Trump and Iowa Rep. Rod Blum, who is in a tough race to win re-election in Iowa's first congressional district. The super PAC's expansion into House and Senate races shows a high level of confidence in Clinton's standing against Trump.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.