If America implodes, Elon Musk’s most ambitious plans will implode with it. America’s need for larger-than-life leaders to stop our partisan death spiral has never been greater. Musk, a legendary multitasker, should devote some of his energies (and, yes, some of his fortune, too) to helping Andrew Yang get his new Forward Party off the ground.
Musk backed Yang in his 2020 bid for the Democratic nomination. Yang has made overtures to the Tesla CEO about his newest project, calling Forward “a natural home” for Musk. What does he want from Musk? Only Yang really knows. But he’s too savvy to see Musk as a mere piggybank.
Indeed, funding is crucial. But Musk would even be more helpful as a cultural icon. He could urge his mammoth Twitter following to attend Trumpian-scale rallies. He could also inspire it to do the nitty-gritty work required to build a party at the local, state and federal levels. Even if estimates are accurate that many of his followers are bots or spam accounts, it still leaves him with a huge base of devoted fans.
And if the size of his Twitter following is in doubt, other signs suggest his immense appeal. A recent YouGov poll ranks him the 23rd most popular public figure in America. Among millennials, he’s the 10th most popular.
Publicly at least, Musk has yet to respond to Yang’s outreach.
But the puckish entrepreneur’s refusal to sell his soul to either major party (or the Duopoly, as Yang calls them) makes Musk a must for the Forward Party. On the same day he attended an exclusive GOP retreat hosted by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the world’s richest man tweeted: “To be clear, I support the left half of the Republican Party and the right half of the Democratic Party!”
Musk has dropped other hints about his centrist leanings. He tweeted during his negotiations with Twitter: “If I were to own Twitter, it would be geared towards the middle 80 percent of the population, so technically the far left and far right would probably be dissatisfied.”
I’m not sure what Musk bases his 80/20 split on. But it tracks with Gallup polls showing that few Americans consider themselves “very” liberal or “very” conservative. The “middle 80 percent” is precisely who Yang should be targeting.
The data show otherwise for those who see third parties as perpetual nonstarters. A recent Pew study found that 38 percent of American voters strongly agree with the statement, “I wish there were more political parties to choose from.” That figure includes 48 percent of independents, 38 percent of Democrats, and 21 percent of Republicans.
Some pundits view centrism as a eunuch compared to its “manlier” cousins on the right and left. It certainly doesn’t have the visceral appeal of burning down cities or crashing the Capitol, nor does it provide the catharsis of threatening the lives of Supreme Court justices, police officers, vice presidents or federal agents. Yet that might be centrism’s greatest strength. It’s a “boring” cure for the kind of radicalism that threatens to obliterate us.
But it doesn’t have to stay boring. Musk and Yang’s playful charisma and their visionary brilliance can make centrism compelling. Together, they can articulate a nonpartisan vision with enough appeal to patriotic Americans right and left to propel the Forward Party to the front ranks of American politics.
Even Forward’s latest merchandise (shirts declaring it the “Get Sh*t Done” party) seems tailor-made for uber-pragmatist Musk, the king of “getting sh*t done.”
Building a party might seem dull next to transforming humanity into an interplanetary species. But at this point, with civil war a growing prospect, it might be the noblest thing someone of Musk’s stature can do.
During World War II, America’s industries retooled themselves to build guns, tanks and aircraft engines. Musk has a genius for designing machines that grab the world’s imagination and organizing large-scale enterprises that produce and distribute these machines. No one’s asking Musk to turn Tesla and SpaceX into political “factories” that spit out Forward Party candidates and voters. But we do need him to take some of his brain power and apply it to assembling machinery of a different kind.