What Democrats Should Learn From Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang was never going to be president. Even as he raised a loyal internet army, branded himself as the math candidate, mainstreamed universal basic income and courted celebrity endorsements, the odds were stacked against him. And as votes were tallied in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, Yang finally suspended his 2020 presidential run.

Yang’s might be the only successful failed Democratic presidential campaign. He became a household name. After overcoming low early polling numbers, he overtook media darlings like Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke, outlasting them with strong fundraising and even stronger online support. He appeared in all but one of the eight Democratic primary debates, and had the good sense to leave the race before voting results got ugly.

But perhaps Yang’s biggest impact on the Democratic race was his appeal to disaffected voters. And it’s what remaining candidates can learn the most from.

American voters are tired. They feel alienated from politics. They believe the government is inherently corrupt and unresponsive and run by politicians who are intent on preserving the status quo.

Voters want to get something for their vote. They respond to exciting ideas and policies, ones that offer tangible solutions to the problems that concern them the most—that’s why MS-13 fearing xenophobes love Trump and why Medicare for All resounds with Americans across the political spectrum.

Yang was smart to make UBI his pet issue early in his campaign. UBI appealed to voters who believe the government doesn’t do enough for them. Supporting Yang strictly for the extra grand per month became a joke online, and the plan wasn’t flawless, but it rallied people to his cause. The Yang Gang, while a bit too MAGA-adjacent at times, was one of the most passionate candidate support groups in the primary. And since Yang wasn’t a Democratic politician—another fact he and his supporters were derided for—he brought in voters the party otherwise may have never engaged.

Candidates should prioritize attracting new voters. It doesn’t matter whether those voters identify as libertarian or apolitical or freshly red-pilled alt-righters. The Democratic Party doesn’t seem to stand for much beyond buttressing its own power and influence. Party insiders look down upon and criticize popular high-minded policies or candidates who receive endorsements from politically fluid podcast hosts. But you can only present yourself as the less awful alternative for so long until it completely blows up in your face, as it did in 2016. Democrats need all the help they can get to win a general election.

Yang understood the need for broad appeal as well as anyone. It’s how he carved out such a loyal following during his run. And it’s why other campaigns would be wise to court his voters with similar purposeful solutions and policies, especially in such a splintered primary field.

As for the man himself, Yang’s political future appears bright. He’s exponentially increased his odds of working in or with a Democratic presidential administration. And he’s hardly diminished his chances at another White House run, either. Within a half hour of his campaign suspension, #Yang2024 was trending on Twitter. But his biggest impact on the 2020 race—and American politics—might be yet to come.

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