On Politics With Lisa Lerer: Andrew Yang’s Bipartisan Bet

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. Lisa Lerer is on vacation today, so I’m your substitute host, Matt Stevens.

I spent this past weekend in New Hampshire with the entrepreneur and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Along seven stops on the campaign trail, I got pretty familiar with his stump speech, which is something of a mini lecture on the state of automation and the history of universal basic income, loaded with data and mostly lacking in big applause lines.

But what is particularly interesting is what he doesn’t talk about: Mr. Yang does not mention President Trump until the very end, and even then, his intention is to pay Mr. Trump a sort of backhanded compliment: “He got the problems right,” Mr. Yang likes to say, “but his solutions were the opposite of what we need.”

At a time when some of Mr. Yang’s more well-known rivals for the Democratic nomination have either built their candidacy around being the anti-Trump or have revamped their campaign to target him (I’m looking at you, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke), Mr. Yang has caught on with some Trump voters by harping on the pain and suffering people feel when they lose their jobs — and concerning himself with how to soften the blow.

He argues that free money is a solution even Republicans would go for, and points out that the one state where a universal income passed is Alaska, which leans heavily conservative. He has happily done interviews with conservative media commentators, including Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson. And although he tweets often, he almost never tweets about Mr. Trump.

Exactly how much of his modest success so far in the presidential primary is because of his welcoming stance toward the right is not clear. But Mr. Yang has managed to make the cut for the third debates by polling at 2 percent or above several times and attracting donations from more than 130,000 people — a feat only nine other candidates can say they have accomplished. Though he remains a (very) long shot to win the nomination, when all you need is 2 percent support to claim a measure of success, every little bit of enthusiasm counts.

Republican voters I talked to, like Austin Snell, a 21-year-old college student who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, expressed fatigue over the constant attacks being leveled in politics and what they saw as the two parties staking out extreme positions on either side of divisive issues like immigration. Despite Mr. Yang’s liberal and progressive views on most issues, voters I talked to said they considered him more of a pragmatic centrist who formed his policy ideas based on data rather than ideology.

“He has correctly identified the problems facing our country,” Mr. Snell, of Litchfield, N.H., said of Mr. Yang. “He hits on a lot of common topics that people agree on.”

Mr. Snell, who said he had listened to Mr. Yang’s audiobook, “The War on Normal People,” said he was pleased to hear the candidate express concern about truck drivers, call-center workers and other, well, normal people. He also said some of his fraternity brothers, who are fervent supporters of Mr. Trump, are giving Mr. Yang a hard look. “If it’s Yang versus Trump, they’re going to have some thinking to do,” he said.

Make no mistake: Mr. Yang is no fan of the president. But he has made it clear he does not hold a grudge against people for having voted for him. In fact, Mr. Yang has labeled himself as “nonideological” and created a popular campaign slogan that signals as much: “Not left, not right, but forward.”

As a result, many of Mr. Yang’s fans — Republican and Democrat alike — have begun to fashion an electability argument around their still-somewhat fringe candidate, and view him as the person best equipped to both beat Mr. Trump and unite the country.

“You see all these other candidates who are great at bringing up problems, but when it comes to solutions, they just blame Trump,” said Vipul Periwal, a supporter who drove from his home in Maine to attend multiple Yang events in New Hampshire. “Yang is very positive in the way he carries himself, and he tries to reach out to people on all sides of the political spectrum. You hear Democratic candidates say they want to get Trump supporters on board but then they try to distance themselves. Yang wants all Americans.”

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We’re down to our final installment of our series, Candidates on Rides in Iowa.

In this fourth edition, Senator Michael Bennet takes the Grand Wheel with three of our esteemed colleagues, Reid J. Epstein, Shane Goldmacher and Sydney Ember. (Poor Sydney. We all remember how much she loves rides!)

And Iowa, this might be goodbye to our series, but it’s far from farewell. We’ll be back soon!

Reid Epstein: All right, Senator, compare this to the state fair in Colorado.

Michael Bennet: We love the state fair in Colorado, in Pueblo. This one is bigger. And it’s fascinating to meet people from all over the place.

Sydney Ember: I hate Ferris wheels.

Bennet: You hate what?

Sydney: Ferris wheels.

Bennet: Don’t hate the Ferris wheel.

Sydney: If I close my eyes, don’t be concerned.

Reid: What did you eat?

Bennet: We started out with the caramel apples egg roll, which won the prize last year. Then I had a — what was the bar called? A Wonder Bar. A Wonder Bar, which is a confection of vanilla ice cream, chocolate and peanuts. I had that a little bit for breakfast today. I had a corn dog.

Shane Goldmacher: How do you avoid this being your high point in Iowa? Right now?

Bennet: This is pretty good. That’s an excellent joke. By putting one foot in front of the other and keep working. I really think the base of the Democratic Party in Iowa is where I am, and I think I’m more used to running in a place like this than a lot of the other candidates. This feels a lot like home.

Sydney: You attacked Bernie Sanders a lot in your soapbox speech. Do you think he’s sliding in Iowa?

Bennet: I think that one reason is “Medicare for all.” I understand his ideological commitment to it. I respect it, actually, and I respect how honest he is about what he’s proposing. He’s virtually the only one who really tells the truth about it. As Bernie said, “I’m the one who wrote the damn bill.” And he is the one that wrote the damn bill and he knows what’s in the bill. And, notwithstanding his ideological conviction, I don’t think that’s what Democrats in Iowa want. I think they want a public option. They want a chance to make a decision for their families about how to get to universal health care.

Reid: In the last few days, there’s been a couple of sort of classic Biden gaffes. Are you concerned that if he’s the nominee, that his inability to speak clearly will cost the party in the general?

Bennet: Look, I mean, he’s going to have to show over the course of the election that he can do it, but we’re all going to have to demonstrate that and —

[The ride approaches the end.]

I want to go around again. And you were very brave at the top when they stopped, after saying that you didn’t like being on a Ferris wheel.

Sydney: Oh, I appreciate that.

Bennet: But there’s a lot of folks in this race that represent a new generation of leadership. It seems to me that’s where we should head as a party.

Reid: We’ve asked everybody who’s been on these rides with us, has there been a more humiliating interview than being on the ride with us?

Bennet: Being on the ride? No, I like being able to see the fairground and I like being able to stop at the top and I like being able to bring my kids with me, so it was great.

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This week our colleague Astead Herndon teamed up with The Times’s designers, programmers and music critics on a really cool project looking at the playlists that candidates use at their rallies.

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