Could Andrew Yang be the Dark Horse of 2020?

After spending the last few years as a Bernie Sanders supporter, I would have called you crazy if you had told me a week ago that Sanders would be my second choice for President. But that time has come.

Living in Des Moines, Iowa, hardly a day goes by when there isn’t a presidential candidate having a town hall or event relatively nearby. So, if you want to kick the tires of any presidential candidate, you usually have your pick of the litter. A few days ago, I decided to check out Andrew Yang as he was having a town hall event a few miles down the road at my former elementary school. The rather large brick building stopped hosting students fifteen years ago and had since been re-purposed into a mixed-use venue.

After settling into my seat in the auditorium, the crowd began to fill in and I noticed quite a few younger faces, unlike the usual older crowd that tended to dominate presidential candidate events. I had a seat on the side of the auditorium, so while the warm-up speakers were talking, I could see Yang backstage wearing a hat that said ‘MATH’ and was jovially joking around with his campaign. Not the stoic look of a typical candidate. The event was co-hosted by J.D. Scholten, a former baseball player, who ran against Iowa’s notorious Congressman Steve King last year and nearly won. Always a good sign when Scholten is at an event.

When it was time for Yang to come out and begin speaking, I looked around and saw a considerable amount of people for a candidate who is relatively unknown. The crowd was delighted as he began shaking hands as he made his way towards the stage. He looked as what the President would describe as ‘high energy’. Yang then pointed out his ‘MATH’ hat and told us that it stood for ‘Make America Think Harder’. His talk mostly featured on the ripple effects of job-eliminating automation and artificial intelligence, which are topics you’ll never hear come out of most presidential candidates’ mouths. His solution to those problems is universal basic income or the Freedom Dividend as he branded it, which is the plan to give everyone $1,000 per month. He then explained how to pay for it and how it would help. When he asked the crowd which state already had a universal basic income, the crowd replied ‘ALASKA’ in unison and he explained that it’s one of the most popular policies in the deep red state. After answering questions from the audience, his policies seemed to mostly align with Bernie Sanders, but I later found out after visiting Yang’s website, that he has an incredible amount of well thought out policies.

(Left) Sanders’ Polices from website (Right) Yang’s policies from website

Some audience members who were dressed up as penguins who were there to bird-dog the candidate, asked him about a previous statement on climate change. After Yang explained that he was ‘pro-penguin’ and that he also agreed with them, the questioners were smiling and ended up taking a picture with the candidate after the event, which was an incredible display of how to handle the tense moment.

Afterwards, he announced he’d take a picture with everyone who wanted one, a long line formed, and he graciously met every single person in line. When it was my turn, I explained how I’d been for Bernie Sanders and Yang mentioned that he had been also, but thought he could achieve Sanders’ goals more efficiently.

On my drive home, I thought about how familiar that event felt, compared to four years ago at a Bernie Sanders town hall I attended when Sanders was polling at 3% nationally and no one really knew who he was. Obviously, a few months later he then took off and now is a household name. The energy at the event, the amount of people, the low name recognition, and the stand-alone policies being presented all collectively felt how it did back in 2015. I would not be surprised if the dark horse candidate this election season is Andrew Yang. He probably already is the ‘internet candidate’ of this election cycle with the Yang Gang, memes, and a good following on his subreddit r/YangForPresidentHQ. Yang has also made a name for himself by doing podcasts with the likes of Joe Rogan and has stepped out of the liberal bubble by also doing shows with Ben Shapiro and has visited Fox News quite a few times, which sets him apart from the Democratic Party who refuses to do debates on Fox News. This willingness seems to be the actual embodiment of his slogan ‘ Not Left. It’s Not Right. It’s Forward.’ And this approach seems to be paying off as conservatives have often commented they respect him for coming onto those programs when most candidates refuse.

Perhaps one of the most important qualities in 2020 might be a candidate who is not divisive and can bring people together or at least respect people on the other side of the aisle. After hearing Yang talk about his policies and experiences leading a non-profit, his familiarity with how automation and artificial intelligence can affect society is clear. I have a hard time believing Sanders could thoroughly explain how many jobs will continue to be automated away and after hearing Yang talk in depth, it gave me the feeling that Yang might be the better candidate with perhaps better and more modern policies.

Town Hall in Des Moines, IA

I think Yang is due for a breakout and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rocket up in the polls once he’s on the national debate stage where voters can see his policies, reasonableness, his grasp on the future, and where we’re headed as a society.