Aug 31, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Yang urges Biden to break precedent and debate RFK Jr.

 Andrew Yang participates in the "From Government to Corporations: The Urgent Need for AAPI Leadership" panel during the TAAF Heritage Month Summit at The Glasshouse on May 05, 2023 in New York City.

Andrew Yang participates in a panel during the TAAF Heritage Month Summit at The Glasshouse on May 5 in New York City. Photo: JP Yim/Getty Images for The Asian American Foundation

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang wants President Biden to debate Robert F. Kennedy Jr..

Why it matters: "If you don't debate RFK Jr., then he has a stronger case to say, look, I didn't get a fair shake so I'm going to run in the general," Yang — whose book, "The Last Election," is set to come out on Sept. 12 — told Axios.

  • "The problem is that the DNC and Joe do not want Joe debating RFK Jr. or anyone else, and it's a real problem."
  • "I've come out and said, I think that people should be running in a more competitive environment against Joe, even though he is the sitting president because I think that that would be a positive thing."

Biden has indicated that he won't do primary debates, keeping with a longstanding pattern for incumbent presidents.

  • "Whereas if you do debate him, and then you win, then it's harder for him to have a legitimate cause."

Yang noted polling showing that most Americans aren't excited about a potential rematch between former President Trump and Biden, warning that "you can easily foresee that someone is going to try and fill that vacuum."

  • "In the absence of that kind of debate, then you're going to have some candidates with a legitimate grievance," he said.

The big picture: Yang, 48, launched the Forward Party in 2021 after leaving the Democratic Party. The Forward Party advocates for elections reforms such as ranked-choice voting and open, nonpartisan primaries, and other changes to give Americans an alternative to the two major parties.

  • Yang ran for president in 2020 as a Democrat, building a strong grassroots fundraising operation with his warnings about automation and his proposal for a $1,000 monthly universal basic income.
  • He unsuccessfully ran for New York City mayor in 2021 to succeed Bill de Blasio.
  • Yang's forthcoming book, co-authored by writer Steven Marche, is a fiction political thriller set on the campaign trail.

Between the lines: Yang's Forward Party is not putting forward a presidential candidate in 2024, per his party's website.

  • The former tech entrepreneur did not comment explicitly on a potential independent No Labels presidential bid, but he said that spending money "on an alternative or safety valve is perfectly prudent."
  • "The concern that arises is whether that safety valve wouldn't be used in a productive way."

What's next: Yang predicted that the 2024 presidential election will be remembered as "the AI presidential cycle" — and he warned that today's leaders are already behind the curve.

  • "When it comes to technology, just think about how our government responded to the advent of social media."
  • "And if we have anywhere close to the same approach with AI, it's going to be nearly impossible to put the genie back in the bottle."

Go deeper: The 2024 presidential race is the AI election

Go deeper