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Andrew Yang’s Third-Party Aspirations

Andrew Yang’s Third-Party Aspirations

Andrew Yang, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has never held elected office, became a household name when he ran for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 Presidential election. After dropping out of the race in February, 2020, he set his sights on the mayoralty of New York City, and briefly led the Democratic primary polls before losing the nomination to Eric Adams. This month, Yang declared his next pivot. As he published a new book, called “Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy,” he announced that he is starting the Forward Party, which he hopes will break the “duopoly” dominating American politics.

“Forward” is both an account of Yang’s campaigns and a manifesto for his new party, which he believes should focus on advancing structural changes to the political system, such as open primaries and ranked-choice voting, and on lessening extreme partisanship. “Energy and passion won’t accomplish anything if all efforts are pitted in opposition to each other and the political system is designed to reward inertia,” Yang writes. “It’s the system itself that needs to be amended.” He also assures voters that they can maintain their current affiliations while joining his new party: “There will be Forward Democrats and progressives, Forward Republicans and conservatives, Forward independents and unaligned, and so on.”

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I recently spoke with Yang by phone about his new book and his plans for the Forward Party. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also discussed what he learned from running for office, how you can be a Democrat or a Republican and a member of his new party, and whether a third party can help American democracy.

You write about what being a politician does to your head. Can you talk more about that?

I started running for President as a relatively anonymous civilian, and that had some struggles attendant to it. I would say, “Hey, I’m running for President,” and people would say, “Of what?” or something similarly dubious. Then we gained steam and momentum, and the entire organization sprang up around me. In that environment, you wind up being something of an instrument, where people will say, “Hey, now you’re going to do this interview. Now we’re doing this event. Now call this person.” It’s a massive adjustment for, I would say, just about anyone.

I tried to say in the book that these experiences are probably not conducive to the development of a lot of the qualities that we want in leaders. I think most people would agree that the level of scrutiny that attends this process is probably discouraging a lot of excellent people from running. I think it’s more likely to impact certain groups that are probably going to be subject to even more scrutiny—women come to mind for me.

I also thought you were hinting in the book that it does things to your ego and makes you think of yourself in a certain way.

What I was hinting at is that it would make you a much worse manager. Your function is to get in front of a TV camera all the time. You’re probably not being super attentive to the needs of your team or figuring out what the interpersonal dynamics are. When I ran an organization, I spent a lot of time, for example, interviewing every hire. When you’re a candidate, people get hired in various locations and you meet them after the fact. I think that the process of running will end up eroding both management skills and empathy, and turn people more into avatars where they’re serving their new marketplace, and the new marketplace is going to be a set of TV cameras.

When you look back on your run for mayor of New York, what do you think your campaign got right and what do you think it got wrong?

I think, early on, we got right that a lot of New Yorkers wanted to be able to enjoy our city and wanted a degree of positivity in reopening. Then, as the campaign progressed, the focus turned much more to public safety, which wasn’t something that people associated with me. We’re very proud of the fact that we got more individual donors than any other candidate in history.

The book puts forward a lot of ideas, like ending the revolving door in Washington, and introducing an “American Scorecard” that would measure “societal health” in ways that go beyond economic indicators. More broadly, what is it that the Forward Party would accomplish?

The Forward Party is trying to realign our representatives’ incentives to line up more with ours, the general public, rather than the most extreme and activated partisans, who right now have disproportionate influence on whether someone is going to come back to office. One senator said to me something that I think maybe we’ve sensed, which is that issues are sometimes more valuable to a political party if they’re unresolved than if they’re resolved. What she meant by this is that if you have an unresolved issue, then you can get people very angry or excited about it. You can get people to donate to fight the other side. If you were to resolve it, then those catalysts go away. In this environment, because extremity is so disproportionate, you’ll actually probably pay a price if you compromise. Those are the incentives as they currently exist, and they’re driving us crazy.

You use the word “duopoly” in the book. When I hear that word, I associate it with Ralph Nader, who used it to say that the two parties were too close together ideologically. Are you saying that they’re too close together ideologically?

I think that there are different issues attendant to each party. It is a little bit overly simplistic to just say, “Hey, the extreme dominates,” because it makes it seem like it’s symmetrical, and it’s not precisely symmetrical.

Not precisely.

I do have a different critique, which I think is suggesting that corporations have undue influence over both parties. When I talk about the duopoly, in many ways I’m talking about the structural fragility of the system that we have. If you wanted to make a system that was resistant to authoritarianism, you would have more than two parties, definitively. Our Founding Fathers were anti-partisan. John Adams expressly feared two great parties that would just clash and clash. If you do have only two parties and one of them succumbs to authoritarian leadership, then there are very, very few safeguards, because the incentives are for everyone in that party to fall in line. If you wanted a more resilient system, you would have five political parties, or seven political parties. Then, if one party succumbed to terrible leadership, it’s a problem, but it’s not an existential problem the way it could be here in the U.S.

If, as you say, one party were to succumb to authoritarianism—and we do have a two-party system, which, at least for the moment, is not capable of being changed—would there be some danger of weakening support for the non-authoritarian party?

I think that there are these two tracks one could be pursuing. One would be electoral success, in the way that we currently look at it, and then the other would be institutional improvements and a strengthening of the system to make it more resilient, sustainable, and genuinely lowercase-“d” democratic.

Andrew Yang’s Third-Party Aspirations