Who Are Andrew Yang And Pete Buttigieg Anyway? And Why Are They Running For President?

Both (as of now) long shot candidates will be part of Democratic Presidential debates, after raising donations from more than 65,000 individuals.

Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang, some years ago at a book fair

So how come probably you still don’t know much about Yang, or his #yanggang, even if you’ve heard of him by now? (We didn’t either except some vague recollections of mentions of the name, and some discussion of “universal basic income“, floating around somewhere in the Democratic ecosphere, until very recently).

So here are a couple of things to read and look at:

  1. First, the transcript of an interview with Freakanomics from a couple of months ago that gives you a lot of background. In short, Yang is a serial entrepreneur who perhaps most notably (at least from a business perspective) sold a standardized test prep company he built to a giant in that industry, Kaplan, for a lot of money.
  2. Second, a session with Joe Rogan, that’s also a little dated now, but did a lot to rev up enthusiasm and support for the candidate. You can watch it by clicking on the image below:

The people we’ve had contact with who support Yang, do so with a true-belief and a fervor we haven’t seen associated with any candidate since Bernie Sanders. And also maybe Trump if you want to go out that far.

And there’s probably something to that, because implicit in Yang’s message is yes, we do need a businessperson to run the country these days, we’ve just got the wrong one right now. And he’s made that argument far more compellingly than former Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz, who’s also still floating around out there somewhere (unless we missed something).

The question, as with any “unknown” candidate is whether they can gain enough traction to quickly gain the support of more than just a few percent. Being in at least the first debate–and probably more–helps. Another “lesser known” candidate, Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has apparently just qualified too. And being “unknown” isn’t necessarily a disadvantage in itself. As we’ve noted before, voters often don’t care how experienced or conventionally qualified a candidate is, as long as he or she is transformational.

Pete Buttigieg talking to voters in Iowa. (Click on photo to watch)

We still don’t know Yang or Buttigieg enough yet to guess whether they fit that bill.

What we do know is Yang’s focused and deeply knowledgeable about an aspect to the economy most politicians aren’t: the vast changes technology is going to continue to bring to American lives, and whether things like people having jobs can possibly keep up with those changes. And if not, what to do about it. He addresses that challenge compellingly. Is it a broad enough platform on which to build a nomination? Or more of a way to get other candidates talking and thinking about the same crucial issues?

Buttigieg hits a lot of the same themes, but also some of the same themes as Trump, talking about revving up the economy in the Midwest through new investment in infrastructure and people. Unlike Trump, he’s unabashedly all in on “Medicare for All.”

One thing’s for sure: one candidate will definitely at some point emerge as the favorite of younger voters. That could be one of the younger, more up-with-the times candidates, which very definitely includes Yang and Buttigieg. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be one of the younger, “newer” candidates. It could be Bernie Sanders again. It’s impossible to know yet.

And Beto O’Rourke just last week entered the race. He could be the candidate to capture the imagination of young voters too. We like Beto’s refreshing approach to politics. Like he’s searching for answers and we’re all going to part of the dialogue. (And we went to the same school.) And we hate all these stupid stories about how he’s “privileged” and how somehow that makes him unqualified, and that he wrote lewd poetry. Such a strong effort to smear a candidate at such an early stage means to us that someone sees him as a threat. (Unless it’s just unused opposition research left over from the campaign of Ted Cruz). At the same, we kind of think Trump is right: that Beto just lost a Senate race, and not by as small a margin as people are now making it out to be (although small for a Democrat in Texas), so how does he transform that into a win for higher office? Maybe in the future, after he’s paid more dues. And as a Senate candidate, he was a money-raising machine. So the success of his candidacy probably rides on whether people are willing to stake as much on him for President. Then again, if he happens to be the one whom younger voters gravitate to, he’s got a shot too.

Last time, Bernie Sanders did so well not only because he was inspirational, but also because no one else had the fortitude to really press ahead against Hillary Clinton. Of course Bernie’s the superstar in this race, so he has much more resonance than any of the field of competitors to this point. That doesn’t mean any of the long shot candidates can’t gain significant traction, and get young people flocking around them too, giving them a fighting chance at least at a good run.

We gotta say, as cloyingly earnest as Yang supporters we’ve come in contact with can be, and as irritating as Beto’s fund raising army definitely is: a thundering herd of texts and emails from the moment of his announcement, (Buttigieg seems the most mild-mannered of the bunch), no one from any of those teams have called us a-holes yet. With Bernie Sanders it’s almost automatic any time we mention his name. We even got those kinds of responses to a piece we wrote that referred to Bernie, but had nothing to do with him personally or his policies at all. A point we went out of our way to stress in the first sentence. Of course, there can be an advantage to having in-your-face supporters: they’ll fight to keep you in the lead.

Fivethirtyeight’s Nate Silver Tweeted recently that Yang was getting around the same amount of search traffic on Google as Sanders.

But wouldn’t it stand to reason that people wouldn’t search Bernie (or Biden) as much because they already know who they are? Not at all. Bernie people are always interested in Bernie. Familiarity with someone you highly respect doesn’t add distance (or breed contempt), it turbo-charges the need for intimacy; for knowing everything that’s going on with the person you revere. But yeah, we wouldn’t put much significance on a Google search trend over a couple of days.