DUBUQUE, Iowa — Presidential candidate Andrew Yang believes his closest ally among his Democrat rivals is former Vice President Joe Biden and would be willing to consider being part of his presidential ticket if offered the opportunity.
“I'd say I've had the most interactions with Joe, actually,” Yang told Yahoo News. “He actually came to me and said he's very concerned about the fourth industrial revolution and that if we automate away the jobs, it's going to be a fundamental threat to the middle class. And that made me really excited because I was like, ‘Wow, Joe is listening.’”
In a wide-ranging interview with Yahoo News on his campaign bus, Yang said he’d consider being part of any of his rivals’ tickets, especially Biden’s.
“I'm going to help get Donald Trump out of office and help us win, and that's in any capacity. Certainly, I want to be the nominee myself, but if I'm part of the team, I'll do my part for sure. If any of the candidates prevails and asks me to be their running mate, of course I would take a very long, hard look at it.”
Yang’s sit-down interview — during which he addressed topics ranging from the Democratic primary to identity politics — kicked off the inaugural episode of Yahoo News’ interview show, “Hot Mic with Brittany Shepherd.”
While expressing openness to being another candidate’s pick for vice president, he also said that a number of his Democrat rivals past and present — including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well as Biden — would “all be welcome in the Yang administration.”
“I share text messages with half a dozen of the other candidates. I would work with many of them. And as president, I can't wait to enlist many of them to join the cabinet,” said Yang. “I get along with Cory very well, with Kamala very well. I miss Kamala actually on the trail. I have a lot of respect for Beto. He was always very kind to me from day one and had a natural interest in helping people. And the people that are still in the field, I've had conversations with Joe, Bernie, Senator Warren about trying to solve problems together.”
Yang says he’s not interested in excluding any candidate from his potential administration.
“We need all hands on deck to solve the problems that got Trump elected and help move the country forward. I could work with virtually all of them and will enjoy doing so.”
Though he has a few ideas of the kind of person he’d want to name as his running mate if he clinched the nomination, he wouldn’t provide names, saying a shortlist might be “premature.” He did reveal, however, that he’d prefer a vice president who had “very deep relationships on Capitol Hill.”
He’d also like to have a woman on the ticket, he added.
“I would prefer to have a woman running mate because I think that organizations run better if you have strong male and female leadership at every level. The big test really is whether you have that degree of trust and comfort with someone because they have to be your partner, and you have to know that there's a real chance that they’ll be the next president.”
Part of Yang’s everyman appeal is that he seems genuinely pleased when he finds out that others in the race actually like him.
“When Bernie told me he liked me, I was very happy because I'd been around him half a dozen times and I wasn't sure if he liked me.”
That likeability comes in part from his unconventional campaign, but also his ability to connect with Americans on familiar issues, like family. Yang is the father of two young sons, including one who was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. Both Yang and his wife, Evelyn, have talked about representing families with special needs children and their desire to chip away at the stigma surrounding the diagnosis.
“For whatever reason, [we] were the first to be talking openly about it,” he said. And I think that Americans are eager to get past a point where politicians are pretending that their families are perfect or that their family's never experienced the stress of being new parents or any of that. We all struggle in different ways.”
Yet, his nice-guy persona is likely to be tested on the debate stage next week in Los Angeles. Confounding to some — rivals included — is that Yang will be the sole person of color on the stage, at a time when the Democratic electorate is increasingly racially diverse.
When asked if he sees a responsibility to represent that part of the electorate as a burden, he replied by offering his own perspective on what it meant to be an Asian-American candidate.
“Oh, it would be way too much to ask for any one person to represent — I think it's something like over 90 million — people of color. I'm very, very proud of being the first Asian-American man to run for president as a Democrat,” he said. “But I wouldn't even claim to represent the 17 million Asian-Americans because there are 19 different ethnic groups, and we're very, very diverse in so many ways. So, I wouldn't call it a burden, I would call it excitement. I am thrilled to be the lone person of color on the stage. I just wish that there were other candidates like Kamala and Cory up there with me.”
And while Yang is known for his perhaps unusually chummy rapport with other candidates, he said that he’s willing to defend himself and his proposals if challenged on camera. But he’s not relying on what he sees as “rehearsed attack lines” to get his point across.
“If another candidate did something that I found genuinely offensive or troubling, I would be very happy to call them out for it. But at the same time, I think Americans can tell when you're trying to stick it to someone for political points versus some kind of genuine disagreement,” said Yang.
He feels that voters find those moments disingenuous at best, making indirect reference at now-viral clashes from former candidates in early debates. According to Yang, “a lot of the people that initiated those conflicts ended up not benefiting from that decision.”
Though he didn’t mention any specific incident, one notable episode was when Harris attacked Biden at the first debate over his legislative record on bussing. While her campaign saw a surge in coverage and fundraising after her viral moment, her momentum eventually plateaued. She dropped out of the race in early December.
While Yang has generally ridden a wave of good publicity, not everything has been smooth sailing for Yang’s “pirate ship” campaign.
Yang’s tongue-in-cheek stump lines (“The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math,” “I’m Asian, so I know a lot of doctors”) fell flat for some members of the Asian-American community, who found the lines ham-fisted and trope-laden. To this critique, Yang feels that “by and large” Asian-Americans are invigorated by his campaign and acknowledge that he’s “poking fun” at a stereotype. He maintained that after sitting down with a number of individuals who took issue with his remarks, he was able to find some common ground.
“I felt like if people were being hurt by these jokes or were offended, then, of course, I would take it very seriously,” he said. “Now when I do talk to people, most people understand the source of the humor and the spirit of it.”
His other prominent rift has been with cable news network MSNBC, also known by its hashtag #YangMediaBlackout. His supporters, known as the “Yang Gang,” have talked about boycotting the network, citing Yang’s truncated speaking times at the debates and lack of coverage as signs of MSNBC’s bias against his campaign. They accuse pundits, too, of portraying Yang’s team as less serious.
It’s true that many of the Yang staffers do not hail from traditional operative backgrounds. Their boss crowd surfs and shoots whipped cream into staffers mouths. It’s not exactly the return-to-standard that candidates like Biden pitch to voters, and to outsiders, the Yang operation could easily come off as a folderol-filled pipe dream.
But the shoot-from-the-hip, White Claw drinking, MATH hat wearing, UBI-pushing staffers, and even Yang himself, believe that they’re the ones who will eventually have the last laugh — and certain cable networks will be part of the punchline. After all, Yang is not a frontrunner, but he’s already outlasted and out-polled other once-favored candidates.
“The root of that spat is that they seem to be treating me differently than other candidates,” Yang explained. “What's running through my head, or what did run through my head initially, was that they don't understand this campaign. But that has seemed less and less possible given that at this point I've already outperformed half a dozen or more senators, governors, and congresspeople.”
However, he said he’s willing to return to the network, if it acknowledges that it “made errors in coverage.”
Whatever his mission shapes into in the coming months, Yang is determined to bring his eclectic crew past the nomination, and he seems eager to refocus his energy on sparring with Trump. When pressed on reporting from the New York Times the indicates Trump might walk away from the debates, Yang was stunned, at first not believing the news.
“Wow. I think that would be pretty disgraceful if you're the sitting president and you don't even show up to debate the nominee for the other party that's coming to take your job,” he said. “I don't think the American people would enjoy that. I think it'd be a very hard job for him to explain that one away. It would just look like he's running.”
The ability to directly face off with the president may appeal to Yang because one of the more unique aspects that distinguishes him among the Democratic contenders is his ability to attract and maintain Trump voters. Many credit podcaster and former “Fear Factor” host Joe Rogan for legitimizing Yang’s campaign. Rogan — who boasts fans from all over the political spectrum — is not known to be a leftist voice by any means. Some of these Trump-defectors have found Yang through internet forums like Reddit and 4chan, spaces sometimes more associated with Internet trolls.
While some Democrat candidates might not factor in peeling voters away from the GOP into their strategy, Yang doesn’t seem to mind the converts, even if their sheer existence within the party could perturb some Democrats.
“Job one is beating Trump,” he said, “and if someone's willing to vote on our side against Trump, we should be welcoming them with open arms.”
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