The odds are stacked against him, but his new party deserves attention
Disillusionment with establishment politics in America is not a new phenomenon. Ever since the founding of the Republic, the tide of populism has ebbed and flowed, but rarely has an outsider candidate been able to capitalise on popular discontent and make it all the way to the White House.
That hasn’t stopped prominent figures in American life from trying. The most recent example is Andrew Yang — a New York millionaire and now former Democrat who has defected to found his own shop, the Forward Party, this month.
“We can sense in our country that polarisation is getting worse than ever,” Yang, the former presidential and New York mayoral candidate, told Fox’s Maria Bartiromo this month. “And, unfortunately, the incentives are going to make such that we’re going to wind up with violence, strife and even a new civil war. I mean, it is that serious.”
Few people will dispute Yang’s grave analysis (this author certainly doesn’t). But the question is whether he has the political skill to win without Democratic support. After all, the last independent president of these United States was George Washington.
No doubt the example of Ross Perot, the enfant-terrible of nineties politics, will be front and centre in Yang’s mind. In the ‘92 election, Perot won nearly 19% of the popular vote — around 19.7 million votes — the highest ever number for a third-party candidate. But in spite of these figures, he failed to secure a single electoral vote.
Given Yang’s performance in the final tallies in 2020 nationally and in 2021 in New York, he’s done little to inspire confidence that he could even muster the votes. A technocratic Asian Gen X-er, he certainly a very different persona from Perot, the swaggering Texan of the Greatest Gen.
And yet, with America far worse for the wear than in 1992, a lust for this type of politics endures.
Following the announcement of his new party, he was greeted with interest by Fox News. He was surprised, he told Tucker Carlson, how poor a brand Democrats had with working people. Fearing a massive swathe of job losses thanks to the onset of automation, Yang has displayed an interest in talking about issues that other Democrats — and Republicans — don’t. With an incumbent political party committed to a dubious racialist programme led by the country’s oldest-ever president and the other committed to vaccine and voter fraud nihilism, count me among the Americans — however few — who are interested in whatever “Forward” is.