Entrepreneur Andrew Yang announced this evening that he’s suspending his presidential campaign, and I, for one, am sorry to see him go. Did I like any of his policies? Not particularly. On abortion, the issue about which I care most, he was as wrong as all of his Democratic opponents. His signature proposal, for a universal basic income, was the stuff of fairy tales. On most policy questions, he came down somewhere around the exact opposite of my view.
But he was a breath of fresh air in politics and in a party and primary dominated by stuffiness. I interviewed Yang last spring, as his campaign was just getting off the ground, and the way I described him then does a lot to explain why he made it as far as he did: “Talking to Yang is like talking to your undergraduate economics professor in office hours as he tries to find a way to communicate with students who were too bored to pay attention the first time he explained something in class. He thinks he gets it, and he wants you to get it, too.”
Yang has an obvious earnestness, the kind of sincerity that he needed to stand out among seasoned politicians and to make his candidacy known. He entered the race as an unknown quantity, a non-politician and a businessman with far less money than Michael Bloomberg or Tom Steyer, certainly not enough to bankroll his own television ads in early primary states. And yet he made it farther in the primary than three sitting U.S. senators, five current or former U.S. representatives, and three governors. Last month, I wrote about why I think that is, but the heart of it was his willingness to eschew focus-grouped jargon and to go anywhere and talk to anyone — whether that was Joe Rogan or Ben Shapiro or Americans who voted for Donald Trump.
My former NR colleague Tim Alberta had an excellent profile of Yang in Politico last week, from on the road in Iowa on the day of the caucuses. I thought this part in particular explained what makes Yang so unique in the Democratic field, and among politicians in general:
Yang is awake but barely functional, his eyes open but trained on nothing in particular. After spending much of the day on his iPhone, monitoring social media for signs of what’s to come tonight, he now appears immobilized. It’s only when Graumann announces a FiveThirtyEight story that Yang snaps to attention: The nixed Des Moines Register poll from Saturday night, Graumann announces, showed Biden at just 14 percent.
“Wait, what?” Yang asks, sounding part-shocked and part-groggy.
Graumann and a few other staffers explain the reporting and its implications for Biden. Their candidate listens silently, then stands up, stretches, and heads to the bathroom. Several minutes later, having emerged and grabbed a fresh bag of fruit snacks, Yang sits back down and sighs.
“It would make me really sad if Joe has a rough night,” he says.
Yang shrugs. “I like Joe.”
I wouldn’t have voted for Andrew Yang to be president. But, like lots of conservatives, I can honestly say I liked the guy. And it says a lot about what Americans want in their politicians that someone who was so obscure at this point last year could make it as far as he did.