early and often

Andrew Yang Advises Vivek Ramaswamy to ‘Lean Into Memes’

One huckster dishes to another. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

On the theory, I suppose, that it takes one to know one, Politico recruited 2020’s tech-savvy, social-media-driven quirky young outsider candidate for president, Andrew Yang, to write an advice column for 2024’s tech-savvy, social-media-driven quirky young outsider candidate for president, Vivek Ramaswamy.

Yang ran for president as a Democrat in 2020 and made a failed mayoral run in New York City in 2021. Now, he heads a very minor centrist party called Forward. In other words, he has pretty much tried to build a cult of personality rather than a conventional political following. So far, Ramaswamy is showing himself to be a stone ideologue who got to spend a lot of time on Fox News promoting books attacking “wokeness” — not exactly a fresh idea in today’s Republican Party. But as Yang says, the two men are sometimes conflated, because “we’re both young (in political years in particular) with new ideas, tech-savvy, Asian and really, really good-looking.” So the dude who finished fourth in Iowa and sixth in New Hampshire in 2020 (and fourth in NYC in 2021) is offering his alleged Republican doppelgänger the benefit of his experience.

A lot of what Yang tells Ramaswamy can only be described as banal. “Stay positive” is exceeded in yawnability only by “stay human,” “be prepared for the debates,” and “spend money early … and late.” That’s about as deep as “smoke ’em if you got ’em.” But one of Yang’s thoughts is pretty interesting:

Lean Into Memes.

Trump dominates memes. A lot of people see them. You are Internet-friendly, but most of the social media you put out are slick videos or snippets from media appearances. Amplify the homegrown efforts from your #Ramaswamaniacs. If you show them love, they will redouble their efforts and more will join them. I saw that firsthand when the #YangGang became a driving force behind my campaign. Someone once said, “He who wins the Internet wins everything.” Trump owns the Internet. If you change that you become a real threat.

In other words, the “Internet” (which Yang persists in capitalizing) loves quirky outsiders, and you can massively amplify your appeal by becoming a social-media character with a social-media following. That’s always a good idea for a minor political candidate if they can pull it off. Unfortunately, Ramaswamy has probably forfeited until the end of time the kind of youth following Yang had by coming out for raising the voting age to 25.

Another Yang suggestion is not so helpful:

Emphasize Electability.

When I ran for president, I won the Iowa youth straw poll and was named “Candidate I’d most want to get a beer with.” So why didn’t I break through? Everyone likes to win. The threshold question for Democrats was, “Who can beat Trump?” They chose Biden. This time for Republicans, it’s, “Who can beat Biden?” Don’t make the same mistake I did: Really make the case that you can clean Biden’s clock and bring about policies and a regime change without the baggage or drama of Trump. Why choose a coin flip when you can choose a sure thing?

So how is someone like Ramaswamy going to prove he can “clean Biden’s clock … without the baggage or drama of Trump?” There isn’t going to be a lot of Ramaswamy-Biden trial-heat polling, and if Trump’s looking weak as a nominee, candidates better known than this quirky outsider who has never held public office are going to benefit from that more.

But there’s one more Yang idea that’s even worse:

Talk More about AI … and UBI.

Forty-two percent of the people who supported me weren’t Democrats, in part because they liked hearing about policies like Universal Basic Income that will actually matter in their lives. Almost two-thirds of Americans now want UBI, and a ton of these people are Republican primary voters. You can broaden your coalition if you include the policy as part of your platform.

As best as I can tell, Ramaswamy’s Big Idea is “merit.” Indeed, it sounds like he wants to build an authoritarian state in which other criteria for any sort of preferential treatment in the public or private sector will be outlawed and ruthlessly stamped out by anti-woke patrols. It’s about as far away in spirit from Yang’s mail-everybody-a-check sales pitch as can be imagined. So Ramaswamy’s as likely to begin barnstorming for UBI as he is joining AOC on a Forward Party ticket. He’d have to say, “Thanks but no thanks, Andrew.”

More on politics

See All
Andrew Yang Advises Vivek Ramaswamy to ‘Lean Into Memes’