Then he launches into his theory of why President Donald Trump got elected: “Over the last number of years, we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in the Midwest.” The stump speech is heavy on gloom and doom, leavened by jokes.
“It’s hard to convey the substance of our campaign in a 60-second sound bite or a brief talk show appearance. So when people understand the true foundations of this campaign then they realize that underneath this person that maybe they thought was likeable is a lot of substance and commitment,” Yang says on the campaign bus. “And then they realize that you don’t necessarily need to be dour and serious at all times to be serious and committed as a presidential candidate.”
Yang’s focus is on intimate town halls in places that other candidates might be ignoring in favor of the relatively dense suburbs of Des Moines.
“We’re targeting some of those rural areas in this state. Where if you’ve got those 20 people, 40 people to caucus for you, you win that precinct, you win that county,” said campaign manager Zach Graumann. “We’re not running a foolish campaign. We’re being targeted and smart. We know where we stand and what we’re doing.”
They think they are peaking at the right time, reaching 7 percent in some surveys. After missing the last debate, Yang qualified for the next one. He’s trying to create and ride a small wave that goes beyond memes and podcasts and connects with older voters who actually caucus.
At the end of each event, Yang’s staffers hand out comment cards for people to fill out. It asks for two rankings: Where the person had Yang in their order of candidate preference before hearing him speak, and then after hearing him.
The card is a symbol of Yang’s campaign. They acknowledge that many people still view him as the wisecracking Asian guy who wants to give every American adult $1,000 a month. He’s still a novelty to many people and they’re not sure what to make of him.
Bill Mullen, an educator, was undecided before hearing Yang in Creston, Iowa. But he said he is now committed to caucusing for Yang after moving him up from fourth on his list. “He has great ideas of what we need to do to improve the economic issues of our country. I like the idea of bringing that [UBI] money back to the local economies and letting people decide what to do with it,” Mullens said.
Susie Olsen of Greenfield, Iowa, moved Yang from not even being in her top five to second, “I always thought he was a really bright, interesting man, but I had absolutely no thought about caucusing for him before tonight,” Olsen said.