The underdog Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang walked onstage at MacArthur Park on Monday night with the swagger of a competitor who’s already won, complete with a pyrotechnic display and the 1990s R&B classic “Return of the Mack” playing on the speaker system.
The New York entrepreneur may have President Trump in his sights, but he owes much of the fight-night hype that distinguishes his campaign rallies to another Donald — Don King.
Yang’s showmanship, humorously math-based approach to solving America’s problems and his love of f-bombs have won him a diverse and ear-splitting following that was on full display at his Los Angeles rally.
Members of the “Yang Gang” and the Yang-curious packed the lawn in front of the amphitheater where the candidate spoke, many hoisting signs with single words on them that anywhere else wouldn’t seem to go together: Some just said “Math.” Others said “Humanity.”
This wasn’t a typical campaign rally. It was more like a revival set to hip-hop, with one-liners that much of the crowd knew by heart.
Any time Yang said the word “math,” the crowd chanted “Math!” “Math!” “Math!” as part of the nerdy-cool theater of his campaign events. Several people brought signs featuring a thousand-dollar bill with Yang’s face on it.
He repeated his pledge to give every adult citizen $1,000 a month. That proposal — a national universal basic income he calls the “freedom dividend” — is the cornerstone of his campaign. He says it would help counter the effects of automation.
Yang stuck mainly to his stump speech, but the crowd seemed no less enthusiastic for it. The 44-year-old drew cheers when he said he wants to make Americans believe in good governance again. The crowd erupted again for his vow to save the nation from “the infighting and the nonsense” among politicians.
“This looks like a ... revolution to me,” Yang shouted, scanning the crowd as the setting sun tinted the downtown skyline gold.
Behind the call-and-response fun Yang offers up on the campaign trail, behind the economic data and calculations, his supporters see him as a unifier in an era of division.
“He represents something that’s beyond politics,” said Lee-kai Wong, 34, a genetics lab worker at UCLA. “The way he talks about the country — it’s a message of healing. I think we need a little more mercy and forgiveness.”
Yang’s campaign is still in the single digits in polling, but his support and the donations that go along with it have gotten him onto the stage of every Democratic debate so far — beating out political veterans and more traditional candidates.
Tony Moreno, 52, a professional driver from Ontario, said Yang “crosses every color line there is” culturally and politically.
“We’re all Americans first,” said Moreno as he wrapped a rainbow flag around his shoulders. “He’s not pointing fingers.”
That’s almost true.
Yang drew a clear distinction between himself and Trump. When Yang promised at the end of his speech that he’d ride triumphantly into Washington on a white horse after winning the presidential election, it was a call to bring the “movement” that is his unlikely candidacy to the president’s feet.
The crowd at MacArthur Park kept urging Yang to body-surf over his amassed supporters, but he’s already riding a wave.