We need more than a good VP candidate. We need one who campaigns.
With Bernie Sanders now out of the race, former U.S. Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is now tasked with unseating President Donald Trump. Defeating a popular incumbent is never a small task, but Joe Biden has a lot more to worry about than usual. Whom he picks as his running mate in the coming days can dramatically shift perceptions of his own candidacy, and my suggestion would be to bring Andrew Yang into the fold as nominee for Vice President.
Playing the profiles game
It is conventional wisdom that any candidate would choose a running mate that appeases people with doubts about the number one person on the ticket. Age, gender, race and religion have all played a role when influencing the VP choice. Common assumptions exist that Biden will pick a woman — speculations include U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar or Kamala Harris, and he did pledge to choose a woman — to reach women voters while fending off allegations regarding his own conduct with members of the opposite sex. Andrew Yang is indeed a male, but Yang is also the son of immigrant parents, of Taiwanese descent, an attendant at a Reformed Protestant church, and the father of two sons, one of whom is autistic. He may be a New York Democrat, but he is capable of self-advertising in ways that make him relatable to many Americans.
This profile is also resistant to attack. The opposition cannot play the ‘inexperienced’ card or the ‘career politician’ card — Yang has never served in elected office — because being inexperienced and not a career politician helped Trump four years ago. Yang’s family is an American immigration success story, and his personal success story as corporate lawyer turned startup executive allows him to wear the “self-made man” mantle. Like any Democratic, he has ideological stances Republicans can counter, but he’s no ‘socialist.’ Aside from any verbal gaffes all candidates experience, Andrew Yang’s clean slate benefits by being largely devoid of known controversy. The Republicans have little ammunition to attack Yang as a reasonable choice.
Expanding the base
Joe Biden undeniably has an enthusiasm problem on his hands. Of Biden supporters, only 24% polled as ‘very enthusiastic,’ compared to 53% of Trump supporters behind their president. Even if all Biden supporters eventually vote for him, this is still a huge problem, as Biden needs to win over more left-leaning voters as well as any independents or moderates with their own reasons for disliking his profile. Without an enthusiastic base, you have trouble reaching these other voters, and that deafening silence will be met with enthusiasm by the vocal Trump base.
Andrew Yang is not all things to all people, but his reach across the political spectrum has its own particular nuance. His own take on the Medicare for All debate and ‘human-centered capitalism’ should appeal to many Democratic voters, while his support of charter schools and nuclear energy affords him exposure to the center. Since Yang has never contributed as an elected person in office, he can gracefully and intelligently discuss such issues without becoming a target for people’s ire.
Running an energetic media campaign
Once “The Internet’s Favorite Candidate,” Andrew Yang may have briefly rivaled Bernie Sanders in terms of putting together a digital grassroots campaign. Yang’s media and digital savvy not only gained many supporters — dubbed by social media as the “Yang Gang” — but his own impressive list of candidate endorsements, particularly among people in the entertainment industry and tech industry. The (albeit brief) enthusiasm many voters showed for Yang, not to mention the strategy that reached these people in the first place, can only be of benefit to a Joe Biden ticket that lacks its own compelling digital campaign.
This connects to what is maybe the most important advantage for Yang as a candidate: Yang himself will actively, aggressively, campaign. As an impactful presidential candidate, Yang has now been vetted by his own campaign efforts, his fundraising and his efforts to make debate presence. If someone like Joe Rogan offers Andrew Yang some air time, Yang won’t take time to think about it; Joe Rogan has millions of listeners! Some might see his lack of government experience as a flaw, but unlike many other popular choices, Yang does not currently have a legislative or executive agenda demanding his attention. We might need Senators Klobuchar and Harris on Capitol Hill right now rather than the campaign trail. Yang is largely unencumbered and likely raring to go.
Attending to policy differences and strengths
Andrew Yang may not be in lockstep with Joe Biden regarding political ideology, but there is more than enough similarity for Yang to have publicly endorsed Biden last March. That said, if Biden and Yang were to team up, they would need to develop answers for the divisions between them. Yang, for example, believes the states should decide minimum wage whereas Biden advocates for a $15 federal minimum wage. Yang appears more liberal than Biden on issues of abortion limitations and marijuana legalization. That said, disagreements between both persons on a ticket can be massaged with clever communication, and some of those disagreements may entice more of those voters who like Yang but waffle on Biden.
One of the more fundamental issues between Biden and Yang regards their stances on universal basic income (UBI). The highest profile talking point of the Yang campaign, the “Freedom Dividend” has been soundly turned down by Biden. Even this, however, opens for an enticing strategic opportunity. UBI has taken on new consideration in light of COVID-19 and social distancing, as the federal government has weighed and administered stimulus options for American individuals and businesses. The urgency of the times infuses a credibility into Yang’s talking point that people once insisted was not there. If Biden can be swayed even to an ambivalent position about UBI, that might be enough for the campaign and voters.
Where UBI really takes significance, in terms of the election, is in the debates. In a non-coronavirus world with Yang not on the Democratic ticket, maybe it slips in as a question; with or without Yang it’s now hard to avoid the topic. I won’t pretend here that conservative voices do not have a prepared rebuttal on the UBI topic, just as Biden and his colleagues had their own. I do wonder how well Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence can articulate such on a debate stage. It’s not like the Republican candidates can still pretend it’s some fringe idea. If either fumbles with an answer, or comes off noticeably ignorant or unsympathetic in their response, that can be a “binders full of women” moment for them.
By all means, Joe Biden should consider qualified women like Klobuchar and Harris as running mates, as they would appear to be credible vice presidential candidates. My primary concern for the Democratic ticket is strategy that translates to victory. Are we satisfied looking for vice presidential candidates to elevate Joe Biden’s profile, or can we find a candidate who makes for an engaging campaign? I cannot say Joe Biden was the best candidate, though the Democratic party has thus established him. I do believe Andrew Yang appears poised to be a game-changing running mate.