Two upstarts in the 2020 Presidential election — Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson — are both polling well below the front of the pack. Yang is at 3%, according to Real Clear Politics’ polling average, and Williamson is at a meager 0.5%. Contrastingly, the three front-runners — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — currently enjoy a full 60% of Democratic support nationwide.
But despite their lack of wide support, Yang and Williamson are not unimportant. For one, the novice Yang is still outpolling other seasoned politicos, including Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Julian Castro. For another, Williamson has 2.8 million Twitter followers, a core of devoted supporters who are paying attention to every word she says, even if it’s not on a debate stage.
But Yang and Williamson tell another important story for the 2020 Democratic primary, and it’s perhaps one that the other candidates might want to consider. They’re presenting themselves in very different ways, and voters are responding in kind.
There’s no better example of the happy warrior in the 2020 Democratic field than Yang. Frequently smiling, occasionally dancing, even crowd-surfing when the opportunity arises, the businessman rarely raises his voice, has a penchant for self-deprecation, and hesitates to use any airtime disparaging his opponents. Instead he’s quick to joke and his catchy one-liners in interviews and at debates naturally roll off the tongue, like he’s in easy conversation with coworkers at an office party. Many of his competitors in the race, on the other hand, struggle to deliver obviously rehearsed, focus-group-tested, cheese-ball punchlines that result less in laughs than eye rolls.
Sure, it’s easy to be nonchalant when your candidacy is improbable and many in the media don’t take you seriously enough to do some basic biographical profiles, let alone real oppo-research into your past. It’s likely you know Yang is offering a monthly $1,000 universal basic income for every American adult, but it’s unlikely you know, say, that he is a lawyer, and former CEO of Manhattan Prep, a successful test prep company later acquired by Kaplan. Yang’s campaign can only benefit the entrepreneur’s profile, while some of his opponents are only damaging their political futures with every day they stay in the race. (Ahem, Julian Castro.)
To campaign professionals, Yang’s campaign strategies may seem like gimmicks. But his debate announcement Thursday, that he would give away $120,000 to 10 families over a year, helped him raise $1 million in 72 hours and collect more than 450,000 email addresses, the campaign told Politico.
Yang is defined most importantly by a marked incapacity for anger. His response to a new “Saturday Night Live” hire’s past racist joke, highlighted a lightness and a penchant for forgiveness that his opponents intentionally seem to eschew in favor of self-righteous indignation and fever-pitch emotional tirades. See Beto O’Rourke’s last debate performance, Kamala Harris’s earlier scolding of Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren’s anti-corporate fire-breathing, and Bernie Sanders...all the time.
Williamson, on the other hand, has cast herself as the country’s foremost know-it-all shrink, self-help guru, insufferable life coach and high school guidance counselor who’s constantly disappointed in you.
Quick with a criticism and end-times prediction, Williamson didn’t make the last debate but still made her seething resentment known. Appearing on MSNBC Thursday night she complained that the “Democratic Party is in such a state of denial,” and that there was “no conversation of any depth or reality about what the president represents.”
She was recently caught in a hot mic moment lamenting her lack of support among liberals. “What does it say that Fox News is nicer to me than the lefties are? What does it say that the conservatives are nicer to me?”
Despite countless earnest tweets that, from a presidential candidate, sound like parody — including the suggestion that prayer and visualization could move a hurricane off-shore — she’s prone to complaining about the way she’s perceived. “When David Brooks says it, it’s profound,” she told the New York Times. “When I say it, it’s woo-woo.”
And regardless of a campaign that she’s largely framed as a return to love, she most often pivots to our deep and unabiding moral sickness, problems like depression and suicide, anger and fear — things that aren’t likely to be solved by politics and definitely shouldn’t be solved by a any political leader who believes she can.
The contrast may help explain why Williamson’s campaign never really got off the ground and why Yang is steadily building despite the odds. After nearly four years of Donald Trump’s mouth-foaming insults and divisive fearmongering, maybe America not only wants to come together but also to lighten up.
Whether he has a real shot at the nomination or not, Yang is onto something. And the frontrunners would be smart to pay attention. Meeting Trump’s anger with more anger isn’t inspiring. We all know the stakes and what’s on the line.
Many voters are also sick of being scolded, being told to be outraged, being whipped into a frenzy. It’s exhausting, and part of what makes Yang so appealing is that he hasn’t bought into the 2019 political precept that the world is ending. It’s why, instead of writing him off, so many are saying, “I’ll have what he’s having.”