Krystal Ball: ‘Friendship debate question wasn’t entirely useless’

Opinion by: Krystal Ball

Following last week’s debate Saagar and I, but honestly mostly Saagar relentlessly mocked the debate moderators for wasting all of our times with a lengthy exploration of “friendship.” This question, of course, was expressly designed to elicit pablum paeans to a lost but not forgotten halcyon bipartisan era of civility. But perhaps Saagar and I were too harsh. Because it turns out at least for some journalists, this hard-hitting friendship question actually was revelatory.

In particular, the New York Times was stunned by Andrew Yang’s answer that he was friend’s with a formerly Trump-supporting trucker named Fred. Now as someone who is actually covering this election to include Andrew Yang’s candidacy, this was no surprise to me at all.

Andrew wrote about truckers and the threat to their livelihoods by automation in his book, he talks about it regularly on the stump, he tweets about it regularly, he spoke to us about it in our interviews with him. Truckers for Yang is a group that exists, this week alone we’ve been covering how many truckers are giving money to Yang and to Bernie. So the idea that he has a friend who’s a trucker was not in any way remotely surprising to me. But apparently the hard-nosed journalists over at the times turned a skeptical eye towards Andrew’s trucker friendship claims and did what journalists do. They asked the hard questions. Here’s the story.

Fred the trucker says he is, in fact, friends with Andrew Yang.

I’ve got to read you the setup on this article. Here we go: “At Tuesday night’s debate, moderators asked the Democratic presidential candidates about a friendship that might surprise people. Andrew Yang said he’d befriended a trucker and former Trump supporter named Fred.

The two men drove around in Fred’s truck for hours, Mr. Yang said, and eventually, Fred came around to support Mr. Yang for the nomination.

My colleagues — and probably more than a few people watching at home — were skeptical about this “Fred.” Was Fred about as real as Pierre Delecto?”

That’s right, they didn’t dig in on Biden’s claims to have been central to setting up the CFPB or to any of the centrists’ claims that working with Republicans to get things done was totally a thing that could happen. Instead, they had to get to the bottom of Fred the trucker.

The piece really gets even better because they actually didn’t even have to reach out to Fred. Fred had noted their skeptical coverage during the debate and decided to reach out to the Times himself in order to prove his existence! He explained to the credulous Times reporters that yang: “Connects with people who feel like they don’t matter or count.” Well, that seems pretty simple to understand really.

Here’s the thing. The Times shock and confusion here is perfectly emblematic of their complete ignorance of the working class in America to include the white working class. You can just imagine their caricature of a deplorable racist build that wall white working-class person completely disintegrating as they talk to Fred. It makes me realize just how convenient this idea that the white working class is a racist brainwashed Trump-supporting mass is both for the media and for the Democratic party. It keeps them from having to ask hard questions about why the white working class would throw in with the historic party of the plutocrats and a reality show billionaire like Trump. It also keeps them from asking hard questions about why so many Americans don’t even participate in the political process at all. It’s much easier to put the fault all on those dumb, lazy, racist voters.

Now, that’s not to say that racism is not a real barrier for working-class solidarity. Obviously it is. And racism has been cynically exploited for decades by Republicans to hold together their overwhelmingly white coalition and by Democrats who know that if they can just be less racist than the Republicans they won’t have to actually deliver material benefits for working-class people of color. But the broad brush that an entire massive complicated group of people has been painted with is both offensive and absurd.

Here’s the other thing. The Times shock and confusion also completely expose how little they understand about what actually drives voters. The idea that what the white working-class Trump voter really wants is Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg moderation is just completely insane, not to mention, belied by all the data. The fact of the matter is that the two candidates with the most crossover Trump support are the two most economically radical and most anti-establishment: Bernie and Yang. That little factoid has never apparently registered for elite media or the Democratic establishment. It doesn’t factor into their bullshit electability analysis or their debate night optics chatter about Pistol Pete. Or maybe the best ever was David Brooks amazing thought experiment where he didn’t even bother getting actual humans to support his point but just imagined the musings of “Flyover man.” But if you really grapple with the fact that 70% of Americans are furious with the political establishment, their embrace of a more transformational politics should hardly be surprising.

Now I’m going to really blow people’s minds. So, there’s another trucker named Dennis who Andrew Yang also won over!

Here’s how Dennis explained his Yang support.

You’re actually worried about the little guy. It’s amazing how unusual and radical that small thing feels in American politics.

So guys, I stand corrected and I take it back. The friendship debate question wasn’t entirely useless. Sure the public may not have learned much but at least for a few moments journalists had to grapple with the fact that Trump voters are actually human beings capable of complexity and not just thought-experiments in David Brooks columns.

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