The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Andrew Yang rules out minor party or independent run if he’s not the Democratic nominee

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks with Washington Post reporter Robert Costa on Monday. (B. Vartan Boyajian for The Washington Post)

Businessman and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang pledged on Monday to support the eventual Democratic nominee, even if it is not him, ruling out a minor party or independent run.

“I would never do anything that would increase the chance of Donald Trump becoming president [again],” Yang said at a Washington Post Live event. “The goal is to beat that man, get him out of the Oval Office.”

Yang, a formerly little-known ex-lawyer and entrepreneur, launched his campaign in late 2017, warning of the societal and economic changes automation would continue to bring to the United States. To counter it, he has proposed implementing universal basic income in the form of a “Freedom Dividend” of $1,000 a month to U.S. citizens.

Since then, Yang has exceeded expectations in the Democratic primary despite his lack of political experience, out-fundraising and outlasting several lawmakers and elected officials. Yang’s campaign raised $10 million in the third quarter, more than those of several sitting senators and governors who remain in the race.

At the Washington Post Live event, Yang reiterated his concerns that automation and artificial intelligence would continue to eliminate American jobs, saying he believed Republicans and Democrats are wrongly focused on scapegoating other things — the former, immigrants, and the latter, bad trade deals.

“If you ignore that elephant [of automation] in the room, I believe you are making a grave mistake,” Yang told The Post’s Robert Costa. “If we’re stuck chasing immigrants or trade deals while artificial intelligence is about to lead the land, we are sunk.”

As he did at the fourth Democratic debate last week, Yang lightly criticized a wealth tax — such as the one fellow candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have made pillars of their campaigns — saying it had already been tried in other countries, only to be repealed because implementation problems meant it didn’t generate as much revenue as expected.

“I am not conceptually against a wealth tax,” Yang said. “I certainly don’t want to walk us down the road that other countries have walked down and learned hard lessons from. … I would not rule it out, but it’s not, to me, the first and best choice.” He later praised Warren, saying he was a big fan of the senator, despite their differences.

Yang, who has gained some notoriety for his uniquely candid campaigning style — he once crowd-surfed at an event in California — cracked jokes while simultaneously painting a sobering picture of the perils of automation. He quipped that he was nervous before appearing on the national debate stage for the first time, before the realization that “it wasn’t really a debate” calmed him down.

At points during the Washington Post Live interview, Yang demonstrated the calculated polish of a politician sidestepping a question.

He brushed aside concerns that some of his campaign-trail jokes — about being a hard worker or knowing a lot of doctors because he’s Asian — were helping to perpetuate a “model minority” myth, saying Americans should be “smart enough” to know he’s joking when he says such things.

“I think, if anything, by bringing these stereotypes into the light and poking fun at them, you’re actually dispelling them and making them weaker,” Yang said. “I know that the Asian community is very, very diverse. And I would certainly never suggest that my experience or anyone’s experience speaks for everyone in a community.”

On Sept. 15, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang was asked about his references to Asian American stereotypes. Here's what he has said. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

When Costa asked him repeatedly if Yang supported the protests in Hong Kong, Yang demurred.

“I think that the Chinese response to people who are standing with the Hong Kong people, it’s off base,” he said. “I think most Americans are deeply sympathetic to the Democratic protests in Hong Kong.”

“Do you stand in solidarity with them?” Costa asked again.

Yang paused. “I think that most Americans stand in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong,” he responded.

When asked how he, as a 44-year-old, would differentiate himself from 37-year-old South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is campaigning on a message of generational change, Yang pointed to his proposal for universal basic income, as well as his plethora of other policies, which cover everything from protecting personal data to doing away with the penny.

“I think they could dig into our platforms and get a sense of our visions for the country,” Yang said. “I will say that everyone can see what my vision is because I have over 160 policies very clearly laid out on my website … and that vision, I believe, sets me apart not just from Pete but from every other candidate.”

Yang later said he would be willing to join someone else’s ticket as a vice president if he ultimately did not win the Democratic presidential nomination.

“Of course. I’m not someone who’s had some crazy, native desire to be president of the United States since I was a kid, ‘cause I’m not insane,” Yang said to laughter. “I’m a parent. I’m a patriot. I just want to help solve the problems of this era.”

Without divulging which other candidate with whom he is most closely aligned, Yang claimed, of all the Democratic presidential hopefuls, only former vice president Joe Biden had pulled him aside to talk about concerns over automation and the “fourth industrial revolution.”

“I’m definitely open to working with Joe,” Yang said in response to a question about whether he’d serve as Biden’s vice president. “We’ve actually talked about it.”

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