What Is Going on With Andrew Yang’s Candidacy?
A few minutes before announcing that he crossed the 65,000 unique donation threshold necessary to qualify for the first two Democratic debates, 2020 longshot candidate Andrew Yang tweeted that he thought Nicolas Cage may have sent some money his way. Late last week, I confirmed with Cage’s manager that Cage does indeed support Yang’s bid for the Oval Office. In the days since I tweeted the news, I’ve been flooded with notifications from members of the #YangGang, an inscrutable online contingent of supporters who love Yang’s keystone promise to give every American adult $1,000 per month. It remains unclear whether the #YangGang’s meme-heavy campaign to put Yang front and center in the Democratic primary race is sincere or an elaborate troll.
One member of the #YangGang who retweeted the Cage news linked to a mesmerizing video that distills of some of the message that have bubbled up out of Reddit and 4chan to bolster Yang’s candidacy. The vision put forth in the below video is anti-Trump, anti-immigrant, anti-Amazon and enthusiastically pro-YANGIN’. The message seems to be that because “unending immigration,” “loss of social cohesion” and “national collapse” are now inevitable, as one meme puts it, Americans might as well vote for a candidate that is going to line their pockets as the country heads into the can.
It’s also lewd and slightly NSFW.
Other Yang hype videos aren slightly less abrasive. Consistent themes are anime, securing the “bag” (money) and various representations of Pepe the Frog, an alt-right hate symbol popularized by far-right supporters of President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Several of the pro-Yang memes lay out a plan to get people to donate $1 to Yang’s campaign in an effort to boost his donation numbers. It seems to have worked given last week’s announcement that he received enough unique donations to qualify for the debates, an achievement that sounded like a pipe dream a few months ago.
Yang’s campaign manager told the Daily Beast earlier this month that the boon is largely a result of his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience, consistently one of the highest-performing podcasts on iTunes. Rogan’s libertarian bent has also given him a cult following among the alt-right, which appears to be driving the #Yangmentum. “Trumpism was the fantasy that America can be we saved,” prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer tweeted earlier this month. “Yangism is the awareness that it can’t.”
Yang’s campaign told the Daily Beast last week that he doesn’t want “hate-fueled donations,” and on Wednesday the New York Times published a profile in which Yang said he is “uncomfortable” support from the far-right as it is “antithetical to everything I stand for.”
Nevertheless, Yang maintains online momentum, and doesn’t seem to have any problem courting support from conservatives. On Wednesday, he accepted an invitation to go on the air with conservative millennial thought leader Ben Shapiro to discuss his opposition to circumcision, a position Yang told the Daily Beast earlier this week would make it into policy if he were to be elected. Granting an interview so that he could publicly come out against circumcision was viewed by many as another way Yang has catered to some of the more unconventional corners of the Internet.
.@benshapiro would be happy to have a convo – my team will follow up.
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) March 20, 2019
Curious observers of Yang’s ascent into relevancy have been perplexed by the intentions of Yang’s supporters. Are they political nihilists who just want to get $1,000 a month? Are they right-wing trolls trying to introduce chaos into the Democratic primary? Are they technologists who believe a universal basic income is the only way to prevent the rise of automation and artificial intelligence from casting a significant portion of America’s population into poverty?
In reality, the answer is probably all three, and then some. The bigger question is whether the various factions of Yang’s supporters are passionate enough to log off for long enough to drive to their polling places and vote for him.