Joey Saladino, better known by his YouTube persona “Joey Salads,” first gained fame in the early 2010s for his viral prank videos before transitioning into political commentary in support of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. In 2018, Saladino launched a campaign for New York’s 11th Congressional District but lost the Republican primary. He attempted another run in 2020 but withdrew before the primary.
Though ultimately unsuccessful in his Congressional bids, Saladino exemplified the new breed of internet celebrities trying to leverage online popularity into real political power. His campaigns also reflected the rising tide of Trumpist populism and the long-shot outsider nature of these untested candidates.
Background on Joey Saladino
Early Life and Career
Joseph Saladino was born September 25, 1990 in Staten Island, New York. He grew up in a traditional Italian Catholic family and graduated from Susan E. Wagner High School. Saladino briefly attended the College of Staten Island but dropped out after one semester.
After leaving college, Saladino worked a series of jobs including as a pizza delivery driver, construction worker, waiter, and trainer at a gym. To supplement his income, he also started creating viral prank and social experiment videos on YouTube in 2013 under the name “Joey Salads.”
YouTube Popularity as Prankster
Saladino quickly gained a large following on YouTube for his outlandish prank videos. Some of his most popular clips involved pranks on his family members, staged social experiments, and man-on-the-street interviews.
At his peak, Saladino had over 3 million subscribers on YouTube and 700 million total video views. This online celebrity gave him a launching pad to shift into political commentary and leverage his built-in audience.
Shift to Political Commentary
In the lead up to the 2016 election, Saladino started creating videos about politics and current events from a conservative perspective. He was an early, vocal supporter of Donald Trump.
Saladino’s political videos proved popular with his primarily young male fanbase. His commentary aligned with alt-right and Trumpist positions on issues like immigration, political correctness, and owning liberals.
This pivot set the stage for Saladino to launch an actual campaign to turn his internet fame into elected office.
2018 House Campaign
Announcement and Platform
In 2018, Saladino announced his first campaign for U.S. Congress in New York’s 11th District. He sought to unseat incumbent Democrat Dan Donovan in the Republican primary.
Saladino ran on a Trump-style populist platform, advocating for tougher immigration policies, repeal of Obamacare, tax cuts, gun rights, and anti-abortion measures. He presented himself as a political outsider and distanced himself from the GOP establishment.
However, Saladino lost the June 2018 Republican primary, receiving only 28.4% of the vote against Donovan’s 71.6%. Donovan went on to win the general election that November.
The defeat showed the limits of converting internet popularity into votes against experienced politicians. But Saladino was not deterred from seeking office again.
2020 House Campaign
Announcement and Platform
In 2020, Saladino launched a second campaign for the Republican nomination in New York’s 11th District, seeking to replace outgoing Rep. Max Rose.
Saladino’s 2020 platform contained similar populist themes as 2018. He emphasized immigration restrictions, tax cuts, replacing Obamacare, gun rights, pro-life policies, and law-and-order measures.
Withdrawal Before Primary
However, in May 2020, Saladino announced he was suspending his campaign before the June primary due to petition technicalities. without Saladino on the ballot, Nicole Malliotakis won the Republican nomination.
Malliotakis went on to defeat Rep. Rose in the 2020 general election. So while Saladino fell short again, the district ultimately flipped to Republicans.
Controversies and Criticisms
Saladino’s campaigns contended with several controversies rooted in his past YouTube videos and political commentary.
Racially Charged Prank Videos
Saladino faced backlash for older prank videos with racially charged premises, like having black people vandalize a car decorated with Trump stickers. Critics accused him of race-baiting.
He also staged a social experiment video falsely portraying black people as more likely to steal a bicycle than white people. Saladino eventually apologized and removed some controversial old videos.
Misinformation and Conspiracy Theories
As Saladino moved into political commentary, he frequently promoted misinformation, conspiracy theories, and false claims about voter fraud, immigration, and Democrats.
His Trumpist stances and speculation about the “deep state” drew criticism for spreading lies and fomenting distrust in institutions.
These past controversies proved a liability during Saladino’s campaigns and undermined his viability as a candidate.
Policies and Views
Throughout his campaigns and videos, Saladino advocated for staunch conservative policies:
- Supported Trump’s border wall and immigration restrictions.
- Opposed sanctuary cities and bashed undocumented immigrants.
- Falsely claimed immigration was causing crime and terrorism.
- Supported repealing and replacing Obamacare.
- Opposed universal healthcare plans like Medicare for All.
- Misleadingly criticized socialized medicine systems.
Economy and Jobs
- Supported tax cuts, especially for businesses and the wealthy.
- Blamed regulations and government for economic problems.
- Opposed minimum wage hikes as “artificial.”
- Rejected or downplayed climate change.
- Criticized environmental regulations as burdensome.
- Attacked initiatives like the Green New Deal.
Foreign Policy and Terrorism
- Supported aggressive anti-terrorism and immigration policies to prevent attacks.
- Speculated about conspiracies like “deep state” undermining Trump.
- Spread misinformation about national security threats.
- Fervently defended Second Amendment gun rights.
- Opposed all forms of gun control or restrictions on access.
Abortion and Women’s Rights
- Strongly anti-abortion; equated with murder.
- Wanted to defund Planned Parenthood.
- Mocked feminism and gender equality initiatives.
- Opposed same-sex marriage, trans rights, Pride events.
- Argued LGBTQ equality undermined family values.
- Advocated for private and charter schools over public.
- Blamed teachers unions for problems in education.
- Called for more funding to improve veterans healthcare.
- Failed to provide specifics on how to achieve this.
Assessment of Campaign and Legacy
Analysis of Campaign Impact
Saladino’s Congressional campaigns ultimately failed to win any elections but still reveal key trends. He represented the rising populism and outsider appeal of Trump-inspired candidates. However, Saladino’s lack of experience and extreme rhetoric proved barriers.
While he attracted a devoted niche following online, Saladino struggled to expand his appeal in actual elections. His past controversial videos also undercut his viability as a candidate.
Lasting Influence as Political Commentator
Though not an elected official, Saladino retains influence as a pro-Trump YouTube pundit. He continues attacking Democrats and “fake news” media to his base of right-wing followers.
Saladino epitomizes how the internet and social media are reshaping paths to political power and discourse outside traditional channels. For better or worse, he demonstrates the new media landscape empowering figures like himself.
Joey Saladino’s colorful journey from viral prankster to Congressional candidate encapsulates much about modern politics. His embrace of Trumpist populism, outsider appeal, and controversial statements illuminated both the possibilities and pitfalls of running on an internet-fueled brand.
While Saladino fell short in his campaigns, he remains a fixture shaping hyper-partisan political commentary online. His evolution continues to embody how the internet and social media have disrupted and reinvented the process of seeking elected office and power.
Q1: What office was Joey Saladino running for?
A1: Saladino ran for U.S. Congress in New York’s 11th Congressional District in both 2018 and 2020 but did not make it past the Republican primary in either attempt.
Q2: What was Joey Saladino’s background before politics?
A2: He gained fame on YouTube as a prankster and social experiment video creator known as “Joey Salads.” At his peak, he had over 3 million subscribers.
Q3: Why did Joey Saladino withdraw from the 2020 Congressional primary?
A3: Saladino suspended his 2020 campaign shortly before the Republican primary due to failing to meet all the petition requirements to appear on the ballot.
Q4: What were some of Joey Saladino’s controversial videos?
A4: Saladino faced criticism for older prank videos that exploited racial stereotypes and promoted misinformation about groups like African Americans.
Q5: What happened after Joey Saladino’s campaigns?
A5: Though he never won elected office, Saladino continues producing political commentary on YouTube supportive of Trump and bashing Democrats and the media.