The unthinkable is happening out on the primary trail, Andrew Yang (D-New York) is emerging as a serious presidential candidate.
For instance, Yang’s campaign is airing a slick, professionally produced TV ad in Iowa. The ad; A New Way Forward, portrays Yang as a mainstream, middle-of-the road political figure complete with a wife.
The ad does not mention “a basic income” but the words universal basic income and pictures of Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) robots appear. In addition, the commercial emphasizes Yang’s slight connection with ex-President Barack Obama (D-Illinois).
Surprise Andrew Yang has a Real Campaign
Moreover, Yang is adding professional political expertise to what Politico describes as his “pirate ship campaign.” For example, Yang hired consultants Devine, Mulvey and Longabaugh to produce A New Way Forward.
Yang’s campaign now includes 73 staff members and at least three offices in Iowa. Importantly, Yang paid $245,000 for access to the Democratic National Committee’s voter files and $97,000 for private companies voter data, Politico notes.
Impressively, Yang’s campaign has contact information for over 450,000 people who entered a raffle for a chance to test the Freedom Dividend Basic Income scheme, Politico claims. Yang got the data by promising to give $120,000 to 10 families for a year to demonstrate the Freedom Dividend.
Yang is Running an Effective Data Driven Campaign
Yang’s campaign claims over 90% of the email addresses they received from the raffle offer Yang publicized in a September Democratic debate are new. Political strategists want that kind of information because it puts them in direct contact with active voters they were unaware of.
Hence, Yang is running an effective data-driven campaign that leverages his celebrity. That sophistication prompted Democratic operative Will Hailer to organize a political action committee (PAC) to promote Yang, Recode reports. That group, MATH PAC is raising funds and conducting direct mail operations for Yang.
Hailer is the former executive director of the Texas Democratic Party and a senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Recode reports. Hailer has close connections to a major national Democratic politician; Congressman turned Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. Ellison was deputy Chairman of the DNC.
Silicon Valley Likes Yang
Finally, Yang is getting a lot of money from Silicon Valley. For instance, Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL) employees gave $66,700 to Yang, Amazon employees donated $49,000, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) employees donated $36,000, and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) employees donated $21,300, Business Insider estimates.
Oddly, another big Yang donor pool is the United States Army. Soldiers donated $17,1000 to Yang’s campaign. High profile Yang donors include Elon Musk, Twitter (NYSE: TWTR), and Square (NYSE: SQ) CEO Jack Dorsey and former Y Combinator Chairman and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.
Altman held a fundraising lunch for Yang at his San Francisco home, Business Insider claims. Tech executives and engineers support Yang because they agree with his theory that technology is killing tens of millions of jobs. Yang’s fear is that job-killing tech will cause mass unemployment and social-political unrest.
The Mainstream Media Discovers Andrew Yang
Tellingly, even the mainstream media is taking Yang seriously. CNN, for instance, honors Yang by seeking his opinion on issues.
For instance, CNN asked Yang about billionaire Michael Bloomberg preposterous plans for a presidential run. CNN’s talking heads still don’t take Yang seriously but they love the ratings he attracts.
Notably, CNN’s Joe Berman tried to use Yang to promote the network’s latest recycled great moderate presidential hope Bloomberg on 8 November 2019. CNN claims Bloomberg could file paperwork to enter the Alabama Democratic primary.
Hence, the mainstream media knows Yang is popular but they don’t take him seriously, yet. Journalists want to cash in Yang’s celebrity but they don’t think he’s a credible candidate. I think the “journalists’” actions speak louder than their words.
Is Yang, a Kindler and Gentler Trump?
Interestingly, we have seen this hypocrisy before with another popular unorthodox celebrity candidate – Donald J. Trump (R-New York) in 2016. Remember, the media treated Trump with contempt but could not get enough of the Donald’s presence.
In fact The New York Times estimates the media gave Trump $1.898 billion worth of free media attention in the first few months of the 2016 presidential campaign. By February 2016, Trump was receiving over $400 million a month in free media attention, The Times claims.
Like Trump, Yang is a New Yorker who is readily available for media appearances. Conversely, Yang is actually friendly and likeable, unlike Trump. Hence Yang could be a kinder and gentler Trump.
Yang, like Trump, is a former entrepreneur with a questionable business background, a rabid fan base, and a strong media presence. In addition, his ideas are popular with many ordinary Americans like Trump’s were.
Similarly, Yang openly discusses trends, ordinary people fear, but the elite refuses to acknowledge. In Trump’s case it was trade, immigration, and the decline of white America.
In Yang’s case, it is technology killing jobs and gutting the middle class. However, Yang unlike Trump has a laptop full of data to back his claims. Thus, Yang does not scare off intellectuals and women like the crude Trump does.
Yang’s Effective Digital Campaign
Many political journalists have noticed Yang’s effectiveness as a candidate.
In particular, Yang is running a very effective digital campaign, Wired’s Nicholas Thompson observes. Interestingly, Yang answers questions on Quora, and goes on Reddit.
In addition, Yang attracted the most new Twitter followers; 7,566, followers among the candidates who participated in the 12 September 2019 Democratic presidential debate, Politico’s Dan Diamond tweets. Tellingly, frontrunner Joe Biden got the least new Twitter followers among all the candidates in Diamond’s estimate.
One reason Trump won in 2016 was his unorthodox; but effective use of digital media to leverage his celebrity. For example, Trump’s digital effort; Project Alamo, used an identity database to direct targeting advertising at tens of thousands of Americans Americans, Joel Winston claims on Medium.
Could Yang Beat Trump?
Trump’s 2020 digital efforts are making some Democrats nervous. The New York Times’ Thomas B. Edsall claims “Trump is Winning the Online War.” Edsall claims Trump’s strategists have been researching sophisticated digital tactics such as mobile advertising IDs (MAIDS) since 2016. Theoretically, MAIDS could make it easy for candidates to access smart phones.
Accordingly, CNN estimates Trump and his allies spent over $33 million on Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and Google Ads between Spring 2018 and November 2019. That spending gives Democrats “the jitters,” CNN writers observe.
Hence part of Yang’s appeal is he could wage a sophisticated digital campaign similar to Trump’s efforts. Furthermore, many younger tech-savvy Democrats are skeptical of the effectiveness of older candidates such as former vice president Joe Biden (D-Delaware).
Notably, Yang rivals Trump in his ability to harvest voter data. That ability could be critical in 2019. Hence, some in the establishment are wondering if Yang could beat Trump?
Resistance leaders who are looking for a Trump killer are wondering if Yang is their candidate.
Why the Establishment is warming to Yang
There at least a few elements of the Democratic Establishment are warming to Yang.
There are several reasons Establishment Democrats are taking a second look at Yang. Those reasons include:
1. Yang has some similarities to Trump, as I noted above. Andrew is a celebrity businessman and an effective digital campaigner who attracts media attention. Additionally, Yang has a growing grassroots following. The similarities to a proven winner are too great for experienced pols to ignore.
2. Yang is the only candidate left standing; besides Joe Biden (D-Delaware), who looks sort of like a moderate Democrat. Yang aggressively promotes radical policies, but he looks and acts moderate. If Biden falters; or gets dragged by the Ukraine mess, Yang could be the most moderate Democrat in the race. Remember, the other choices are self-described socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and U.S. Senator Liz Warren (D-Massachusetts), the woman Wall Street loves to hate.
3. Yang is the only candidate taking a moderate position on impeachment and Trump. The increasingly ugly attacks on Trump; and the clumsy impeachment investigation, scare and disgust many Americans. Yang is publicly skeptical of impeachment and he opposes prosecuting Trump after the president leaves office. I think Yang is tapping into a growing wave of discomfort with the anti-Trump hysteria.
4. Yang is the most likeable of the successful Democratic candidates. Yang comes across as friendly and personable. In contrast, Bernie appears grumpy and nasty; Liz Warren seems arrogant, and younger voters find Biden creepy and offensive. Likability does not guarantee success, but it gets candidates in the door. Notably, Trump; probably the least likeable presidential candidate since Richard M. Nixon (R-California), won in 2016.
5. Yang’s message rings true with a lot of Americans. Americans are nervous about big-tech and fearful for their jobs. In that environment, people will listen to a candidate willing to talk about their fears.
6. Yang, like Trump, pays attention to ordinary people’s fears. In contrast to Biden, who refuses to discuss the economy. Yang comes right out and says what many think: “robots and artificial intelligence threaten our jobs.” Just as Trump was willing to acknowledge what many ordinary Americans really thought of immigrants, Hillary R. Clinton (R-New York) and free trade.
7. Yang is the only Democratic presidential candidate, some conservatives and right-wingers like and respect. Business Insider writer Karol Markowicz admits, “I’m a conservative — and I could live with Andrew Yang as president.” I cannot imagine a conservative writing that about Sanders, Warren, or Biden.
8. Yang even has some appeal to the alt-right, Axios’ Sara Fischer notes. For instance, Yang received 17,100 mentions on”fringe social media platforms” between 27 February and 8 March 2019, Axios’ Sara Fischer estimates. Thus, Yang could take some votes from Trump. In contrast, I cannot imagine Trump voters supporting Biden.
9. Democrats really want to beat Trump, and Yang looks like he could do it. Moreover, many Democrats believe Trump knows how to beat candidates like Joe Biden and Liz Warren. Yang; however, is untested, unknown, and unproven, so he could provide the Dark Horse factor that disrupts Trump’s reelection efforts.
Will Yang win? I don’t know, but many people now think Andrew Yang is electable. That could be a game changer in the Democratic presidential primary.