Entrepreneur and Democratic Party candidate for president, Andrew Yang.

Picture yourself running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Now picture that you’re perhaps the least well-known figure within the most diverse field of candidates ever to vie for the chance at America’s highest public office.

How would you plan to stand out?

If you were to think like most politicians then you would try to play ‘the game’ — you would try to win the nomination. That’s the point after all. Right? Attack the current pack-leader. Make sure to tout your most applaud-garnering taglines. Brag about how your record shows you are the clear choice to take on Trump for the 2020 presidential election whilst debasing everyone else’s credentials.

And like most of those on that debate stage, you probably wouldn’t win the nomination.

Question: after watching CNN’s second night’s debate, does anybody remember much of anything that Michael Bennet or Jay Inslee said? Probably not.

Another question: what do you think of when you hear the name Andrew Yang now? Probably, at the very least, ‘Asian man who likes math’ and ‘free money’.

And that’s exactly what he wants you to think. Well, to start to think.

Whether the entrepreneur’s ‘Freedom Dividend’ proposal to give every American adult 1,000 dollars a month in universal basic income (UBI) is a good idea or not doesn’t matter. Well, okay, it matters in theory, but only if Andrew Yang continues to climb high enough in the polls to survive politically into next year’s primaries.

And that’s exactly the point. You see, Andrew Yang — unlike the other nine candidates up on stage earlier this week — was not trying to win the democratic nomination. He was simply trying to reach the 2% threshold in an upcoming poll in order to secure eligibility for the third debate in September (as per the DNC’s requirements).

Perhaps some of the lower-polling candidates were thinking of the same criteria as well, but here’s why Yang’s strategy — and performance — was wildly better planned and executed than any of theirs.

Yang was asked several months ago on the Joe Rogan Podcast whether he really thought he had a chance to become president. His response was telling: “You say, ‘Hey do I think I can be President of the United States?’ The threshold question is this: ‘Can I get forty to fifty thousand Iowans on board with the idea that them and their family members getting a thousand dollars a month is a good idea?’”

Yang is referencing the Iowa Caucus, which is the first of the primary states to vote next February. His dedication to digging into numbers as he attempts to plot one of the most unlikely paths to the presidency is certainly reflected in his debate performance.

The first round of debates back in June left Yang in a rough spot. He suffered from the least amount of speaking time, (purportedly) having his microphone cut by moderators, and giving seemingly lackluster responses the few times he did speak.

But here’s another interesting tidbit about Yang: despite never previously vying for public office, he possesses plenty of debate experience. In fact, he was actually on the US National Debate Team in 1992 that went to the World Championships in London (@AndrewYang).

And so this brings us back to this week’s debate. Yang stood sandwiched among nine other candidates — pretty much all of whom were more well-known than he was, at least until recent months. While arguably not given as much time as he deserved (again, the least of all the candidates) (CNN, “CNN Democratic debate”), Yang was fortunate enough to have many more chances to speak than back in round one. And boy, did he make it count.

Some of his responses might have seemed a bit confusing — especially as the debate dragged on. His popular tagline of “The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math” is memorable enough, but every subsequent answer — regardless of the question asked — tied back into his flagship policy proposal of the Freedom Dividend. Unless that truly is the only idea he has for becoming president, why?

This near-obsession with pushing for universal basic income seemed almost darkly comical by the time he was asked how he would work to combat global climate change:

The important number in this is 15 percent of global emissions. We like to act as if we’re 100 percent. Even if we were to curb our emissions dramatically, the Earth is going to get warmer. The last four years have been the four warmest years in history. We are too late. We are 10 years too late. We need to do everything we can to start moving the climate in the right direction, but we also need to start moving our people to higher ground—and the best way to do that is to put economic resources into your hands so you can protect yourself and your families. (Meyer)

Many pundits have pointed out the ‘pessimistic tone’ and lack of further climate-specific policy within such an answer. But how many of us remember Jay Inslee’s response to such questions? A man whose platform is built around combating global climate change? As Yang later said during an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “Well, I was just telling it how it is.” He clarified, “I wish I had better news to report…But that’s not what the science is saying. That’s not what the facts are saying.”

Just watching the debate, you might rightfully assume that he only has one single policy, but a quick review of his website will reveal that he has outlined at least as many policy proposals as any other candidate. His climate and energy policies in particular are as comprehensive as anyone else’s — so why not share such details with the world? Why not make his full case for how he will achieve these goals?

Well, could you (or any politician for that matter) truly accomplish such a Herculean task in 15-30 seconds? Or would your time be better spent hammering home the multifaceted vitality of your flagship proposal — even in the case of how it relates to climate change?

This is Yang’s point — echoed by his closing statements regarding the spectacle of the debate format and election process in general. He needed to accomplish two goals in this debate: 1) Have people remember his name, and 2) foster a clear association between him and the Freedom Dividend: how this main proposal will help to address all of the concerns raised and debated, and in some cases, more intimately and effectively than any one policy of any one other candidate. The perceived outcome? Not to win the nomination, but again, to garner enough recognition and public interest so that he reaches 2% in a poll to qualify for the following debate in September. 

Yang also might have been the only one not attacked during the debate, which was clearly his hope. The other candidates seemed more confused than anything by his lack of barbing. Kamala Harris furrowed her brow after he responded to a question of whether he agreed with her plan to fine companies over the gender-wage gap. “I think that’s an endorsement of my plan?” she said, before moving on as if wondering, ‘Why isn’t he playing the game? Wasn’t he supposed to attack me so I can attack him back?’

Ironically (and tactfully), Yang attacked no single candidate, but instead all of the candidates in his closing statement:

You know what the talking heads couldn’t stop talking about after the last debate? It’s not the fact that I’m somehow number four on this stage in national polling; it was the fact that I wasn’t wearing a tie. Instead of talking about automation and our future… We’re up here with makeup on our faces, and our rehearsed attack lines, playing roles in this reality T.V. show. It’s one reason why we elected a reality T.V. star as our president. We need to be laser focused on solving the real challenges of today — like the fact that the most common jobs in America might not exist in a decade. Or that most Americans cannot pay their bills… If you care more about your family and your kids than my neck-wear, [go to] yang2020.com and see what a thousand dollars a month would mean to your community. I have done the math. It’s not left; it’s not right; it’s forward. And that is how we’re going to beat Donald Trump in 2020! (CNN, “Andrew Yang…”)

We could analyze his rhetoric here at length, but the main points seem pretty clear. Yang’s searing criticism of the entire presidential selection process at the end leaves neither the CNN moderators nor the other candidates the opportunity to rebuttal his claims. Again, his push for listeners to learn more about his campaign themselves ties exactly back into his debate goal: let everyone try to bash front runner Biden (and each other) while standing out enough to poll high enough to make the next debate.

Whether UBI will actually ‘work’ is not the issue here. This is not an endorsement of said policy or of Yang in general. This analysis is merely to point out how wisely Andrew Yang is playing the ‘Game of Drones’ right now — and how he’s arguably doing a better job than any other candidate. Whether he can continue to isolate these steps of campaign progress, we’ll just have to wait to see.

Many of my fellow progressive friends — especially those furthest on the left — still either downplay Yang’s ‘seriousness’ or ignore him entirely. Obviously going into an election against one of the most divisive presidents in U.S. history, many Democrats feel like this is ‘their time’ to do whatever they can to push their candidate: whether that be Bernie or Biden; Warren or Harris. And this increasing contentiousness occurs all while Yang’s logical, pragmatic, and personable approach to politics is only helping to grow his appeal as he gains more support among many disenchanted laypeople on various ends of the political spectrum.

Russians, and Facebook, and everything else aside, an objective observer must admit — for better or worse — that at least part of the reason why Donald Trump went from a joke candidate to becoming our president has to do with the common American’s disgust of establishment politicians and political rhetoric in general. Sadly, but successfully, Trump didn’t use their aged playbook either. And neither is Yang — although unlike our current president, he’s using facts and figures, logic and focus over lies, next-level bullying, and outrageous remarks.

So don’t be surprised if you see a clear uptick in Andrew Yang’s upcoming polling numbers. My guess is that you can expect to see Mr. Yang on that fall debate stage. And then? Well, I’m sure he’ll continue to take it from there, one calculated step at a time.

Works Cited

2019 Friends Of Andrew Yang. “Our Policies — Andrew Yang for President.” yang2020.com, https://www.yang2020.com/policies/. Accessed 4 Aug 2019.

@AndrewYang. “Little known fact about me – I was on the US National Debate Team in 1992 that went to the World Championships in London.  If you get me on that debate stage I will deliver. 👍.” Twitter, 17 Feb. 2019, 11:18 a.m., https://twitter.com/andrewyang/status/1097168350126501890?lang=en.

CNN. “Andrew Yang’s ‘4th Wall Breaking’ Closing Statement at CNN’s Democratic Debate – 7/31/19.” YouTube, uploaded by alacritythief, 31 July 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHzDeUqlGpc.

—“CNN Democratic debate: Night two by the numbers.” CNNhttps://www.cnn.com/2019/07/31/politics/cnn-dem-debate-night-two-btn/index.html. Accessed 4 Aug 2019.

Cuomo, Chris. “Andrew Yang and Chris Cuomo (August 1, 2019).” YouTube, uploaded by YangGangHQ, 1 Aug 2019, https://youtu.be/AMozZkQc4TM.

Meyer, Robinson. “Andrew Yang Is Not Your Climate Friend.” The Atlantic, 01 Aug 2019 https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/08/andrew-yangs-horrific-debate-answer-climate-change/595267/.

Rogan, Joe. “Joe Rogan Experience #1245 – Andrew Yang.” YouTube, uploaded by PowerfulJRE, 12 Feb 2019, https://youtu.be/cTsEzmFamZ8.