Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Updated: 02/06/2020 04:55 PM EST
Andrew Yang’s campaign fired dozens of staffers this week after an abysmal finish in the Iowa caucuses, according to four former staffers who were let go.
Among those dismissed were the national political and policy directors of the campaign, as well as the deputy national political director — all senior level positions. The people who were fired worked across Yang’s organization, from his headquarters in New York to the now-disbanded Iowa operation.
The Yang campaign insists it had planned to reduce the size of his organization after Iowa. The official wouldn’t specify the number of people who were fired, but the fired staffers said it was in the dozens. According to FEC reports released last week, the Yang campaign had more than 230 people on staff.
“As part of our original plans following the Iowa caucuses, we are winding down our Iowa operations and restructuring to compete as the New Hampshire primary approaches,” campaign manager Zach Graumann said in a statement to POLITICO. “These actions are a natural evolution of the campaign post-Iowa, same as other campaigns have undertaken, and Andrew Yang is going to keep fighting for the voices of the more than 400,000 supporters who have donated to the campaign and placed a stake in the future of our country.”
The campaign also disputed that the national political and policy directors were “senior” staffers, despite their titles. Spokesman SY Lee said both directors did research and wrote first drafts because they “were not good enough” to have decision-making responsibilities.
“Titles mean different things in different organizations,” Lee said.
Former campaign employees who were granted anonymity to speak candidly said many people expected staffing changes after New Hampshire, not Iowa.
One Yang staffer who was cut loose after his Iowa campaign was dumbfounded by the lack of communication.
“I was twiddling my thumbs” after the caucuses, the person said. “I hadn’t been given my next assignment in HQ and I asked my boss once, and he kind of laughed and was like, ‘Don’t worry about it.’”
Others learned their fate after their email and Slack accounts were cut off, only officially getting word later.
“Some people found out through gossip or back channels, and things weren’t timed particularly well,” a different former campaign employee said. “Some people were shut out of their email, before getting an official phone call [from the campaign] or anything like that. So definitely not the most organized.”
The employees were given at least one month severance, according to the dismissed workers.
Every former staffer who spoke to POLITICO said they still believe in Yang and his mission. Some wanted to remain anonymous because they hope to work with him again in the future and didn’t want to jeopardize the relationship or his candidacy.
“I really don’t want to paint this situation over him or the campaign in any negative way. I, wholistically had a fantastic experience,” a third ex-staffer said. “Andrew, taking it this far and continuing as far as he can, is incredibly inspiring to me.”
Former staffers for Yang, a tech entrepreneur in his earlier life, painted a picture of a campaign of “startup kids” that was wracked by internal issues long before the Iowa election. Yang’s operation was not structured in a way that could sustain its rapid growth, fueled by his robust online fundraising.
Among the issues several former employees identified was the hands-off approach of Nick Ryan, who has the title of campaign chief (Yang has a separate campaign manager.)
Candidates are rarely intimately involved in day-to-day management, relying on senior staff to run the operation. The problem, according to several departed staffers, is that Ryan was also hands-off, leading to frustration among the rank-and-file about a lack of direction.
Another issue: The majority of Yang’s campaign staff, like him, lack political experience. That includes his most-senior officials.
“In some sense, it’s perfectly reasonable that there was some disorganization in a campaign that really bootstrapped itself from nothing,” one of the laid-off staffers said. “[But] I think there was a lot of insecurity with senior leadership not having the experience of doing this before. And so oftentimes they didn’t really know what they were doing.
As the campaign began to grow and be taken more seriously, people who did have more political experience were brought on, but did not mesh with the culture, the person said.
“[That] hurt the campaign because we started trusting people who had a ton of political experience. [The] people who were willing to jump on to Andrew Yang’s campaign were not people who had a ton of experience because nobody with experience thought that he could make it this far,” he said.
Still, as a separate Yang campaign worker who was let go said: “The organization was a mess, but it still managed to do incredible things while being an absolutely f—ing disaster.”