Is Andrew Yang finally ready for his closeup? His likely-to-fail third party depends on it

He couldn't get elected president, or even mayor. But he still thinks he can revolutionize American politics

By Brian Karem


Published August 4, 2022 6:00AM (EDT)

Joe Biden, Andrew Yang and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden, Andrew Yang and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

The dark side of human nature is live-streaming in Technicolor, playing on every wide-screen TV and on full display in theaters across the United States this summer. It may be a Gothic horror show, but the only thing worse than being on this dark thrill ride is not being on it. 

Hunter S. Thompson, a fellow Kentuckian who understood the appeal of Wild Turkey 101, as well as truly bizarre and rare hallucinogens, understood the allure of dark rides. He'd be right at home with the political darkness we've endured the last five years or so.

"No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind," Thompson told us in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." "Buy the ticket, take the ride . ..and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well ... maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten."

Politics today is all about being beaten — at the polls, metaphorically and occasionally . . . physically. Some admit it. Some deny it. All suffer the beatings.

So without further ado, ambling up to the stage and ready to take a beating is Andrew Yang, with his new political party, "Forward." He's not left! He's not right! He's Forward. Of course Yang is trying to step on a political stage largely dominated by Donald Trump who remains busy publicly relieving himself while his rabid minions proclaim his ascension to a throne in the divine kingdom. The rest of us see it as a descent into hell, but hey, it's all a matter of perception. The funny thing is, Trump isn't even the main attraction any more. Sitting center stage is President Joe Biden, who it seems can never catch a break. He's the most famous person ever to get "Rebound COVID" – which sounds like some weird NBA charity group.

Biden has had quite a bit of success as president already, compared to Trump. Yes, I said that with a straight face — or tried to. Having more success than Trump isn't a rigorous task, admittedly. But it is also a tale worth telling after four years of unbridled narcissistic anti-democratic demonic war cries, bellowed from the shallowest soul ever to befoul the spirit and history of the United States as our president.  

Biden's harshest critics — including Fox News and its proprietor, Rupert Murdoch — seem to have recently grown tired of Trump's aging circus act.  On occasion they've even given Biden some positive press. From Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan to the long-forgotten infrastructure bill, those who rarely sing Biden's praises have occasionally, and surprisingly, done so. And he's racked up some notable victories on a variety of fronts. The landslide vote in Kansas for abortion rights this week is just another indication that Biden's policies are far more in the mainstream than those of the Republicans, who philosophically seem stuck somewhere between Genghis Khan and a European medieval warlord.

There remains hope in this country, that maybe, just maybe, we've passed Donald Trump through our political digestive system and are depositing him on the sidewalk, like my dog does with his meals on an extended walk. It's there. It's in the public eye, but it's just public excrement. That's Trump.

So, why in God's name is Andrew Yang launching a third party now? Some think he did it to get the jump on a probable Democratic loss of the House majority in the upcoming midterm elections. If the Democrats lose big, then Yang can wave his sign, smile and say, "Sign up here!" 

Of course, should the Democrats retain control of the House and increase their margin in the Senate — a distinct and growing possibility, Democrats remind us, especially after the vote in Kansas — then Yang would once again demonstrate how out of step he is with a majority of American voters. But Yang has a bit of the gambler in him too, and he's playing the odds. A third party created from the crusty remains of the former Republican Party is somewhat believable, but getting a lot of moderate Democrats? You'd have to down huge amounts of rancid hallucinogens that Thompson would never touch to believe such a fiction.

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Here's the truth; Yang is trying desperately to get to center stage by announcing a third party dedicated to democracy. That's the big idea. A safe space. As for his party's stance on major issues — who knows? He's just building a big tent where everyone in the middle can meet, have a few beers, smile and pull the lever in his favor. He's about democracy. Well, thank God. 

I mean, I guess this needs to be said if your new party mostly comprises old white Republican men, but the rest of us understand the concept of democracy — even if some of us only do so on the crudest level. Yang's Forward Party also sounds like a weird NBA charity (for power forwards), but it has bigger problems than its name going Forward. 

James Carville called Yang's idea "really stupid," while White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre just gave a wide smile when I asked her on Wednesday how the president reacted to a former Democrat forming a new political party. Mind you, backstage Democrats are doing more than grinning. They're laughing. Yang is considered a lightweight opportunist by many high-ranking Democrats, when he's considered at all. One thing he has never been considered is an actual Democrat. He's an aisle-surfer who momentarily found more of what appealed to him on the left side — nothing more.

Yang is considered a lightweight opportunist by high-ranking Democrats, when he's considered at all. And he's the new party's star attraction — at least so far.

While his new political party has been able to attract some money, so far it lacks star power. Yang was a failed presidential candidate, and then a failed mayoral candidate in New York. Now he's hoping his third time trying to get on the political stage is the charm. And that's this party's star attraction. He merged his party with the Renew America Movement (consisting of former Trump Republicans) and the Serve America Movement (a handful of moderate Democrats, independents and Republicans, founded by former GOP Rep. David Jolly of Florida). 

Can Yang make a go of it where no one has before? I predict that if and when the Forward Party dissolves into a puddle-like morass consisting of its own mediocre, fetid ideas, almost no one will notice.

The press loves a Hollywood ending though, and if the Forward Party at some point becomes a major force in American politics, we'll write about the overnight sensation that was actually the bastard offspring of many failed third parties that have littered the American political landscape since the beginning of the republic. 

Otherwise we won't go Forward until someone goes backward and produces a "Remember the Forward Party?" package for an end-of-year network special — or a retrospective on the 2020s, produced in 2030.

There are many reasons to bet against Yang's effort — and the biggest one is Yang himself. He wasn't the most charismatic or the most accessible candidate on the presidential campaign trail and he was never seriously in the running — except maybe in his own head, or the collective heads of his young, impressionable staff. Some say he has the arrogance of Trump, while others say he is loved like a rock. 

Some close to Yang pleaded with him to announce he wasn't running for president before launching his new party. Others wanted to wait until after the midterms. "It's premature political ejaculation," one insider told me.

There are reports that those closest to Yang say they pleaded with him to declare he wasn't running for president in 2024 before he announced the formation of the new party. Others didn't want to announce the party's formation until after the midterm elections. Others begged him not to announce the new party until someone else with a high profile joined up. "It's premature political ejaculation," one insider told me, tongue firmly planted in cheek. 

Whatever Yang's venture turns out to be, for the moment it must be seriously considered and not dismissed. Insiders say one thing the Forward Party understands is building from the ground up. That means winning local and state-level races before ever making a run at a national office. If that's how Yang goes forward, he'll have charted the right path and those efforts could be consequential.

A third party that looks 10 to 15 years down the road could be something to take seriously — particularly if there is serious money behind the effort and the voting public understands the plan. There is a natural, romantic charm about it. Americans love an underdog. Yo, Adrian, remember Rocky? Anyone? 

A viable third party in this country needs several key players, but two are most important, and the first of those is an organizer with links to politicians and money. The second has to be the public face — and if it's faintly possible Yang is the former, very few think he's the latter. There are those who think he's neither.

In short, a Yang party not led by Yang would have a better chance. Or as one prospective party member described it, "Yang needs to yank himself out of the way."

This all may be useless criticism anyway — conventional wisdom says a third party is doomed to fail no matter who sits at the top, while the Vegas gamblers among us, like Yang, figure the potential payoff is worth the investment. That's the dark thrill ride — a gamble that keeps serious adrenaline junkies on edge, grinding their teeth and ready to take a big chance on the slimmest of margins, envisioning a payday that will enable a life of retirement, travel and all the edibles you can consume.

Contributing to the New Hope of the Forward Party is the growing disenfranchisement and general distaste the American voting public feels toward those they've actually placed in office. Sure, we've met the enemy and he is us, but we increasingly want out of the toxic cloud, and fewer and fewer of us who vote believe that either party has the needed answers to get us to higher ground. 

If Yang should fail, others will try, I suppose. They may succeed or, more likely, may not, however noble their efforts. 

What then for the United States? Here's Hunter Thompson, champion of dark rides: "Maybe the best we can hope for is this: There's a lot of things wrong with this country, but one of the few things still right with it is that a man can steer clear of the organized bullshit if he really wants to. It's a goddamned luxury, and if I were you, I'd take advantage of it while you can." 

Let's hope we still can.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Analysis Andrew Yang Democrats Donald Trump Forward Party Joe Biden Moderates Republicans Third Parties