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This article was published on February 12, 2020

Why Jeff Bezos might run for president to spite Elon Musk and Donald Trump

Why Jeff Bezos might run for president to spite Elon Musk and Donald Trump
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is suing Donald Trump over the Pentagon’s decision to award a lucrative military artificial intelligence and cloud services contract to Microsoft instead of his company. Normally these kinds of lawsuits are yawn-inducing, but this case has some interesting caveats.

And, if you’ll let me set the stage first, I’ll explain why I’m convinced the court case will lead to a successful presidential campaign for Jeff Bezos in 2024.

ICYMI: Amazon prepares to strike back after Microsoft wins $10B JEDI contract

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The Pentagon started shopping for a partner to build a cloud services suite meant to work as an AI and weapons platform for drone deployment and other battlefield technologies a few years back and, naturally, Amazon was the immediate front-runner. Amazon Web Services is a core technology that’s, arguably, far and away ahead of the competition. Nearly every tech expert on record figured the contract was tailor-made for Amazon.

In fact, Oracle sued the government for stacking the deck against everyone else as a response to both the stringent qualifications and the fact that it’s pretty stupid to use a single-provider cloud service for military infrastructure. Most companies that wanted the contract simply couldn’t qualify for it, so everyone assumed Amazon would win.

But Amazon didn’t win. And former Secretary James Mattis claims that this was because President Trump ordered him to “screw Amazon” out of the JEDI contract.

Now, as reported by CNBC on Monday, Amazon’s lawyers aren’t just suing the White House over what they consider an improper snub, they are demanding that Donald Trump and former Defense Secretary James Mattis be deposed in court. The big idea here is that Trump’s personal vendetta against Jeff Bezos and Amazon is relevant and the Commander in Chief should be held accountable.

The alleged personal vendetta supposedly has a lot to do with The Washington Post’s negative coverage of President Trump – and, of course, Jeff Bezos owns the Post.

Bezos may not need a big government payout – his company is among a handful of businesses valued at over a trillion dollars and he’s one of the richest people in the world – but he desperately wants one. He’s reportedly jealous of Elon Musk’s ability to talk the Trump administration and local governments around the US into big-ticket, huge budget deals and yearns to land one of his own.

The company’s HQ2 project was supposed to provide that for Bezos and Amazon after drumming up excitement with a reality TV-style contest to see which city would host the new headquarters. Eventually New York and Virginia were to split the campus, but Amazon’s failure to court local politicians ultimately doomed the deal and Bezos, once again, failed to net the Muskian payout he apparently craves.

Read: Amazon’s negotiation strategy for HQ2 was called ‘Fuck you. We’re Amazon’

And that brings us to this seemingly silly lawsuit that’s attempting to get the president to sit down for a deposition.

Were this pipe-dream of a legal stipulation to occur, it would mean that President Trump would have to appear in person to answer questions about his alleged feud with Jeff Bezos.

Without spending too much time on legalese and jargon, the odds of a sitting president getting deposed in court in this kind of case are so close to zero as to make it pointless to speculate any further. It’s not going to happen.

Trump’s being accused of purposefully influencing a $10 billion Defense contract to satisfy a personal vendetta. Arguably, that would be high treason. At a minimum, it’s something a democratic country would consider illegal.

Amazon’s reasoning for the suit and the deposition request is, according to court documents, to protect the country from the kind of misuse and abuse of authority the president allegedly exercised in his oversight of the Project JEDI contract process.

A company spokesperson told CNBC:

President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to use his position as President and Commander in Chief to interfere with government functions – including federal procurements – to advance his personal agenda. The preservation of public confidence in the nation’s procurement process requires discovery and supplementation of the administrative record, particularly in light of President Trump’s order to ‘screw Amazon.’

The brass tacks that all this comes down to, however, is it’s either a flex by Amazon and Jeff Bezos just wants to tie up taxpayer dollars and waste President Trump’s time (rather, his legal team’s), or it’s a political move paving a path for a 2024 Bezos presidential run.

Okay that’s wild speculation, but it’s not entirely unfeasible. Trump’s the best friend that the one-percent has ever had. Simply put: if Bezos can’t get a giant payout to throw in Musk’s face during Trump’s second act, he may as well give it up. None of the Democrats running in 2020 are likely to be kind to big tech if they’re elected. And there certainly aren’t any Republicans in sight who’d be chomping at the bit to get in bed with Amazon after the company’s tried to “depose the King.”

As The Wire’s fictional Omar Little once quipped, “You come at the King, you best not miss.” And if Amazon thinks that screwing with Trump in court is going to get it any modicum of justice or payback, then the company’s genius is severely over-rated. In this case, I think Bezos is smarter than that. He’s stirring up the hornet’s nest on purpose to prep the media and the public for his political coming out.

Instead of running against Trump in the 2020 race, he’ll run against Trump’s phantom in 2024. Just like Trump’s continued to vilify Hillary Clinton at every rally he’s held since being elected the first time, Bezos could “Trump” his political rivals both Democrat and Republican by making his campaign all about Trump. It’s a strategy that’s worked extremely well for The Donald.

Well, that and digitally gerrymandering the election using Facebook, Twitter, and Cambridge Analytica. However, Jeff Bezos isn’t exactly Hillary Clinton – his tech savvy and resources might make a bigger difference than other democratic candidates – assuming of course Bezos runs as a Dem. I’m thinking he might try to pull a Ross Perot and resurrect the idea of a strong third-party candidate.

If Bezos’ spends the next four years drumming up his feud with Trump during speaking engagements and media appearances, we’ll get the opportunity to see if the ‘smartest person in the room’ can win against the biggest bully. It could set the stage for a “Bezos versus the field” election atmosphere in 2024.

And, in a world where hearts and minds are won online, it’ll be interesting to see how the CEO of one of the world’s largest AI companies does in that arena against the Tweeter in Chief.

I’d say it’s about 50-50 whether Bezos runs. Trump’s made the Emoluments Clause obsolete, so Bezos wouldn’t have to lose money or divest, he’d just stop being CEO of his companies for his term. And, let’s not forget that alongside the Post and Amazon, Bezos owns a spaceship company called Blue Origin that’s played second fiddle to Elon Musk’s SpaceX when it comes to government contracts. There’s plenty of incentive for the Amazon chief to take his shot in 2024.

Then again, Bezos has also gone on the record saying he was too happy with his life and running his companies to consider the presidency. So maybe it’s a scenario too outrageous even for US politics. Let’s hope so.

What’s left of US democracy may not withstand the threat we’d face with the head of the company that owns Ring and provides law enforcement with facial recognition software getting himself elected just to stick it to his enemies.

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