Yang’s domestic-policy ideas clearly resonate far beyond the internet caverns where his “Yang Gang” first took root. He has already done for automation what Bernie Sanders did for health care in 2016. With his devoted online-donor base, he could hang around in the primaries until only the billionaires and the front-runners are left. And if the nomination remains tightly contested, and he has accumulated significant delegates, suddenly he looks like a potential power broker or a reasonable second-choice candidate, and … well, he and his staff have started to dream.
[Read: The pull of Andrew Yang’s pessimism]
But to fully escape his fringe status, Yang needs to make voters comfortable with the idea of him as commander in chief. So as we drove out of Des Moines early one recent seven-stop day, I told him I was going to take the idea of a President Yang seriously for a few minutes, and ask what a Yang White House would be like. He deflected a question about which Cabinet departments he’d prioritize restructuring, saying he’d pick top people to run each of them (he didn’t say who) and let them sort it out. He said he’s unhappy with the current Israeli government and would restart negotiations around a two-state solution. He said he doesn’t think Brexit was a good idea—but when I asked him what he thought about subsequent trade deals, that didn’t seem to have made it into the briefing book yet.
On Iran, Yang said he’d piece the nuclear deal back together. How would he handle Ayatollah Ali Khamenei? “I have the interest of the American people at heart,” he said. “We have spent over $6 trillion in the Middle East at a terrible cost to both our people and our national resources, and … if he wants to find a diplomatic solution, I’m someone he can work with.”
Yang told me he would repeal the AUMF powers that the past three presidents have used as a blanket justification for all military operations, and go to Congress for a war declaration if he needed one. Overall, he said, he expects that world leaders would be happy for a fresh start with a President Yang.
“I believe that foreign leaders would find me to be very balanced and restrained and judicious, and good to my commitments. Our allies would find me to be someone who actually included them in decisions before they are made, rather than after,” he said.
The Yang doctrine, as he spelled it out for me, consists of a basic three-point test for military intervention: “first, a clear, vital national interest at stake or the ability to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Second, a defined timeline for our troops to be there, so we can look them in the eye and say, ‘You will be brought home at this date.’ And No. 3 is that we have buy-in from our allies and partners.”
Yang is much more comfortable talking about domestic policy, which for him largely revolves around implementing a universal basic income. He says he’s committed to making sure Congress doesn’t gut the social safety net to pay for his freedom dividend, and he’s not worried about being out-negotiated on the Hill. How would he get it passed? Simple, Yang said. Democrats will be so overjoyed that he beat Donald Trump, they’ll all be on board. Conservatives will like it too—after all, he pointed out, deep-red Alaska, which distributes oil profits to all its citizens, is a model for the program. (Instead of oil profits, he’d be drawing on data profits—taxes on companies like Amazon and Facebook.) If anyone holds out on legislating the program, Yang said he’ll show up with a MATH cap in the district himself.