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Andrew Yang Is Campaigning on Pessimism

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Not having political experience has created some odd moments for Yang out on the trail, like when the self-declared nerdy candidate bounded onto the stage of South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn’s Fish Fry last month and leaned back with the microphone cupped in both hands, pro-wrestler-style, screaming, “Helloooooo South Carolina!”

Last Saturday in Iowa, Yang broke down in tears after hearing a mother at Everytown’s Presidential Gun Sense Forum talk about children being shot, saying he was envisioning his own sons getting killed. A few minutes later, he took on another tone entirely, telling reporters, “I challenge Donald Trump to any physical or mental feat under the sun. I mean gosh, what could that guy beat me at, being a slob?” An aide tried to pull him away, but Yang kept going, the tears gone. “Like, what could Donald Trump possibly be better than me at? An eating contest? Like something that involved trying to keep something on the ground and having really large body mass? Like, if there was a hot air balloon that was rising and you needed to try and keep it on the ground, he would be better than me at that? Because he is so fat.”

The exchange had started with Yang reminiscing about the giant turkey leg he’d eaten at the Iowa State Fair the day before. It ended with him daring Trump to run a mile, but the food photo is what made the rounds. “I can’t think of a better metaphor for Andrew Yang’s campaign than a photo of him literally biting off more than he can chew,” Late Late Show host James Corden cracked on Monday night.

Though he has 170,000 donors, many of the people who show up for Yang in person are younger, disaffected men—the kind who may seem like they’re looking for a way out of work, or those who attack politics with destructive detachment. I asked Yang what he would say to the people who would look at those supporters—and at Yang himself—and say that they need to just “grow up.”

“I mean, if you think about it, why are we trapped in this subsistence labor model?” he replied. “Why is it that a job is 9-to-5 or 10-to-6? And my wife’s work [stay-at-home-mom] is not a job … 94 percent of the new jobs created in the U.S. are gig, temporary, or contractor jobs at this point, and we still just pretend it’s the ‘70s where it’s like, ‘You’re going to work for a company, you’re going to get benefits, you’re going to be able to retire, even though we’ve totally eviscerated any retirement benefits, but somehow you’re going to retire,” Yang said. “Young people look up at this, and be like, ‘This does not seem to work. And we’re like, ‘Oh, it’s all right.’ It’s not all right. We do have to grow up. I couldn’t agree more.”

Friends of mine outside of politics bring Yang’s name up often, half of them asking who he is and half telling me that he’s made a point they agree with. A few aides on other campaigns have mentioned to me that they worry how much support Yang seems to be attracting—not just because they’re jealous, but because they think what he’s pushing is dangerously seductive to people whom they think should know better and stick with other candidates.

“I am surprisingly cool with people who would tend to minimize this campaign,” Yang told me. “It just makes our continued rise all the more exciting.”

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