The American Commons: Brian, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
It’s been almost a year since your campaign for President wrapped. Your 2020 showing was impressive! You received 42,305 documented votes, and probably somewhere between 4000 and 6000 in states that do not report write-in results – that is outstanding for a third party that isn’t even allowed on the ballot in many states. Now that you have had some time to reflect on your experience, we’d love to probe your thoughts a little bit.
Firstly, how did you come around to deciding to run? What was your though process like? Was it a difficult decision? What ultimately convinced you?
Brian Carroll: It was, indeed, a long process, with interplay between things in my personal life and my political development, and incremental decisions. The full story has to go back to when I was about 3rd grade, when I fell in love with reading biographies, and I started developing some life goals from them. In 4th grade I memorized the entire list of US Presidents, though in those days, they only went up to Eisenhower.
However, by junior high, I’d read enough to realize that a person needed to be crazy to want to be President, so I sat those aspirations aside. It took another 60 years for me to decide I was crazy enough to try it. Many of our political leaders establish their political goals while in there teens or early twenties, and then begin making all the right moves to accomplish them. People close to Abraham Lincoln report that he broke off with a girl he loved and married Mary Todd instead because she would be a better political wife. And he cried bitterly when he did it. Indeed, Stephen Douglas and John C. Breckinridge were also courting her. I did none of that. I had read about enough politicians who had messed up marriages and raised messed-up kids, so I made the conscious decision not to enter politics while I had small children. I married the woman I loved, chose a career that promised a degree of obscurity: teaching junior high. I interrupted my Stateside career to spend 15 years supporting Bible translation, nine of those years on a center in Colombia. During my early years, I did three things political. First, I helped organize support for a public transportation system in my medium-sized California city. That brought me an invitation to write a political column in a monthly free newspaper, which in turn allowed me to interview a cross section of our local elected officials. That allowed me to see that they were just normal human beings. Those experiences allowed me to be a leader and spokesperson when an abortionist wanted to open up shop in our town and members of our local community organized to prevent that.
Our school in Colombia was evacuated in 1995, due to the civil war. I was 45 years old, and ripe for a midlife crisis. I knew I would never have another teaching gig as delightful as what I’d just lost. Looking back, I realize how deep a depression I was experiencing at the time, but I was fighting it, and exploring options. I considered political office, and again rejected the idea. I had two kids in college and another three who would soon be there. I had no real retirement built up. I needed to buckle down and earn a steady income. Instead, I bounced around between several teaching positions where I was a square peg in a round hole. I gave up a tenured position and took a sabbath year. For a few months I doubted whether I would ever be back in the classroom. I went back to school and picked up a masters’ degree. I took a another sabbath year. During that period, my political behavior was very personal and very local. I began thinking about the Death Penalty. I read some Mennonite authors and developed a pen-pal relationship with a condemned prisoner in San Quentin. I visited him on Death Row twice. I also began trying to help the at-risk boys I wanted to keep out of prison. I started with a couple of brothers. That relationship expanded over time to helping their whole family, and then a second family. Some were US citizens and some undocumented. It gave me almost two decades to see how expensive it is to live in poverty, and how our immigration system captures people into an underclass that is very difficult to break out of. I saw problems in our penal system, and what it does to individuals and families. I supported George W. Bush in the 2000 GOP primaries, mainly because he talked about fixing our immigration system. By 1980, I had been too Pro-Life to consider supporting a Democrat. I think I still accepted the duopoly trap, the idea that I needed to be one party or the other. Yet I was never comfortable with a GOP that tried to marry economic conservatives and social conservatives. Also, though I’m Evangelical, I was never comfortable with overtly Christian candidates like Pat Robertson. On the mission field, I was rubbing shoulders with an amazing group of Christ’s servants. I suppose I could be excused for having high standards for authenticity.
My first serious break with the GOP came in 2010, when the Republican candidate for Governor in California was Pro-Choice. Earlier, I had been very disappointed by the English-only push and what I saw as xenophobia and under Governor Pete Wilson, especially against Hispanics. But because abortion was the main reason I was a Republican, the 2010 California GOP nominee took that reason away. I ended up voting for Jerry Brown. Yet even in 2012, I would have supported Mike Huckabee for President if he had run.
All of that set the stage for me to walk away from the GOP in 2016. I was reading Huckabee’s daily email, which gradually turned me off on him. When I looked at the original 2016 GOP field of some 20 candidates, not a single one interested me. Then, when attention began to turn to Trump, I was petrified. He seemed to have the ability to corrupt everything that he drew into his circle, and he was drawing in the things that mattered to me, Christ’s church, the Pro-life movement, my country, and what was left of my loyalty to the GOP. But Trump appeared to be a done deal. I preferred Bernie to Hillary, so I reregistered as a Democrat. I happened to be in Maryland at the time of the DNC convention in Philadelphia, so I went up there to stand outside the convention hall and complain. Even then, I was starting to investigate 3rd parties, including the Greens. Under a tent outside the convention, I was able to get a pretty close look at Jill Stein, and knew that was not what I was looking for.
Then, within a few weeks, I saw mention of the American Solidarity Party. I only had to read the platform once to jump in with both feet. I talked to Skylar Covich on the phone, and by early September I was filling out paperwork to be a California Elector for Mike Maturen and Juan Munoz. In October, we had a state convention to pass bylaws and elect leaders, and I was on the team. Then, of course, once you have a party, someone needs to run for something. One thing that I picked up from Bernie was his insistence that ordinary people should run for office. He specifically mentioned teachers.
When I compared state and federal offices, I was more interested in national issues, so I began thinking about a run for Congress in 2018. I thought there was a strong chance that Trump would be impeached and convicted, and I thought my Congressman—Devin Nunes—might very well fall with him. I fail as a prophet. I knew of no other members of the ASP in my congressional district. I had no money. I was still teaching school full time, so I had very little time, but I decided to give it a go. I recruited the two friends who most often clicked ‘Like’ on my Facebook issue posts, and in the process hit a goldmine with Ed Frankovic, who has now become a very active leader in the California ASP. I made other friends, as well, including one of my opponents, Bobby Bliatout. Later, he invited me onto his Fresno-area TV show, where I first made public my intention to run for President. That proves that every friend counts. I printed no literature, walked no precincts, and ran a campaign that was limited to candidate debates, a few interviews, and walking in a few parades. In a California jungle primary field of six, I finished 5th, beating the Libertarian, and drawing 1.4% of the vote (1,594). It was a great experience, and I learned a lot.
But even before I circulated my first petition for ballot access, I realized that running for Congress put me in the spotlight and in contention for the ASP presidential nomination for 2020. I have to admit it was a sobering thought. I still figured only a crazy person would want to run for President. Mike Maturen had run his campaign from home, without any traveling. That is what the Party was up to in 2016, but I knew we had to do better in 2020. I messaged with Mike, and he was very encouraging, as were other members of the party whom I trusted. However, if I was going to try and take it up a notch, I knew would want to travel for most of a full year. Obviously, no one could have foreseen that Covid would ultimately curtail most travel, but it was a concern at the time. My wife’s health would prevent her from traveling much, and I had serious doubts that it would let me be away very often. Campaigning and travel also meant that I would need to retire from teaching at age 69, rather than the 72 that had been my thinking. I still hadn’t built up much retirement.
I had from about November 2017 until November of 2018 to pray about running for President. I had to work through a lot of reasons against it. My commute to work at the time was about ten minutes, and I would catch about ten minutes of a radio sermon from ‘Telling the Truth’, with Stuart and Jill Briscoe and their son Pete, each taking turns. Stuart and Jill had come to Colombia in 1995, to encourage us in the midst of our greatest danger and stress and I relate very well to them. They are fine Bible teachers, and I enjoy their dry British humor (humour?). As I argued with God about running, it seemed like every time I threw a complaint up, the next sermon would directly address it. If I complained that I was too old, octogenarian Stuart would be preaching about Moses taking on a new assignment at age 80. If I complained that I was just a junior high teacher in the boonies, or that I was not ready to debate in the big leagues, the sermon would be about God calling David from the sheep pens, or about the angel touching Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal. All through the Bible we see God calling unlikely people to seemingly tasks. They struggle, but God is persistent, and more importantly, he promises to go with them. Gideon put out his fleece. My fleece was that I would say I was willing to accept the ASP nomination, but I didn’t have the time or energy to pursue it hard. There was another candidate who very much wanted it, but if he could take it away from me, I would know that I had misheard God.
The American Commons: What was the process for registering as a candidate? Was it fairly simple, or were there a lot of barriers that you had to overcome?
Brian Carroll: There were 52 different processes—fifty states, plus Guam and the District of Colombia. Guam and DC don’t have Electoral College votes, but their totals are included in the national Popular Vote. We got over half a percent of the vote in Guam, our best anywhere.
Of the 50 states, we judged about ten as so impossible that we wouldn’t even try. Amazingly, one of those was Illinois, but Illinois changed its rules due to Covid, and we not only got on the ballot, but we got 9,548 votes, more than in any other state. We finished 5th in Illinois. We originally figured we could qualify for the ballot in about ten states, and could be accepted as write-ins in about 30. Fortunately, my credit union has free notary service, because a major part of my routine during the Spring and Summer was getting paperwork filled out and signed for all those states. In Tennessee, Sarah Bourque filled out a separate mailing envelope and separate signature pages for each of the 90 counties. She Express Mailed them for me to sign and then mail back to each individual county. Some made it, some didn’t. Many of the state documents had to be signed both by me and by Amar. Meeting those deadlines kept us on the edge of our seats. In Florida, we had a person waiting and we got her the documents with about ten minutes remaining for her to walk them to an office across the street. We were able to finish fourth in Wisconsin partly because Howie Hawkins and Kanye West missed the deadline there, also by about ten minutes. We have some wonderful people on our state teams, and one of the blessings of the campaign is that the process allowed me to get to know some of them. Perhaps ironically, I feel especially close to folks in three states where we fell short, even after a valiant effort: Washington, Nebraska, and Arizona. Some states had signature requirements and we ended up hiring signature gatherers. In a state like California, we only had to submit a list of 56 people who would serve as Electors if we swept the state.
The American Commons: How did you decide on your campaign theme?
BC: My campaign theme was ‘American Solidarity Party.’ Really. We didn’t have much use for anything else. Our yard signs already needed to cram too much information in the space. Signs for Trump or Biden didn’t need anything else but the name. We had two names that write-in voters needed to remember, and a major goal of the campaign was to increase name recognition for the party. If you try to put “Write-in Brian Carroll Amar Patel American Solidarity Party.” On a 24×18, no one can read it from the street. San Quinan did an amazing job with our yard signs, and did include “Common Good, Common Ground, Common Sense.” During the Campaign, Amar began using the slogan “Family, Friends, Faith.” That was helpful.
We also printed very little literature. I printed up 1,000 copies of something put together by Matt Bosley, but I still have most of them. There weren’t events happening where I could pass them out or put up a table, and people weren’t walking precincts.
The American Commons: What were some things that surprised you about the campaign process?
Brian Carroll: Well, Covid surprised everyone, and completely disrupted the process, but a third party candidacy is not normal to begin with. In 1968, I did a college research paper on protecting candidates during a campaign, and I attended every rally I could find. I shook hands that year with Nelson Rockefeller, Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy, and Richard Nixon. Each one had a very different personality and their rallies demonstrated that. But the commonality was that lots of people showed up. As a party, we don’t yet have the critical mass—at least we didn’t at the beginning of the campaign—to turn out a lot of people anywhere. In October, 2019, I picked up Thad Crouch in Austin and we drove to New Orleans for a Rehumanize Conference. We had a rally planned for the night we got back to Austin, at a co-op sandwich place, but the organizer had a family medical emergency and it ended up just me, Thad, and one other couple. The next night in Dallas, I met with a bigger group, about a dozen, but it was personal friends and former students from my Colombia days. I did recruit three Texas Electors from that group. In March, the weekend before things shut down for Covid, I met with seven members of the ASP in Seattle. When I was in Denver for the 2nd Free and Equal Elections debate, I met with six people at a restaurant, but one of them was the vice presidential candidate from a different 3rd party. During the whole campaign, the biggest group of ASP members I saw in one place was the Ohio State Convention, in August, 2019, a week before I was nominated. I did join a lot of state meetings over Zoom.
The American Commons: Is there a significant difference between what you expected running for office to be like and what running for office was actually like?
Brian Carroll: What I had braced myself for was facing hostile crowds or reporters with gotcha questions. That never happened. The reporters who made the effort to search me out were always very sympathetic. That’s probably attributable to the fact that we haven’t scared anybody yet.
The American Commons: What are some things that you learned on the campaign trail?
Brian Carroll: Less about the campaign trail than about myself. I don’t delegate well, which would have made it difficult to be President. I like to be able to pick and choose what I want to speak or write about. A candidate is expected to have a ready answer to every question. My skill set is better suited to being an ex-officio, minister-without-portfolio.
The American Commons: Are there any funny stories from the campaign that stick out to you?
Brian Carroll: I’ve been Brian T. Carroll for over 50 years, and ran for Congress that way in 2018, but to make it easier for write-in voters to get it right, and to simplify yard signs, I dropped the ‘T.’ for 2020. Unfortunately, Wikipedia, Ballotpedia, and iSideWith still had me registered with the ‘T.’ Some write-in voters still used it. To complicate things, a different Brian T. Carroll ran for Congress in 2020 from a district in the Los Angeles area. We even share Thomas as a middle name. I had seen a cartoon he draws, riffing on history and politics, called Two Part Opera, and we had corresponded from at least early in 2018. He signed his cartoon ‘Brian Carroll’ but ran for Congress as ‘Brian T. Carroll.’ Several places confused us, and I still get some of his emails.
The American Commons: Are there any encouraging stories from the campaign that stick out to you?
Brian Carroll: I have been constantly amazed and gratified by the number of people who have thanked me for running, and the depth of emotion they express when they tell me that. When people are freed from having to vote for the lesser of two evils, they can be very appreciative.
The American Commons: As you were campaigning, did you get the sense that the American Solidarity Party platform and messaging connected with the people you spoke to?
Brian Carroll: Oh, yes. Over-and-over again, we heard from people who found us on iSideWith. They answered the questionnaire and were told they matched up with the ASP. They had never heard of us, but were thrilled that they had found us.
The American Commons: What elements of your campaign did people seem the most drawn to?
Brian Carroll: People like a politics of positivity rather than the usual mud-slinging. I don’t remember the specifics, but one time I posted a comment that was aimed at another candidate, and immediately someone called me on it and said that I had slipped out of character.
The American Commons: What elements of your campaign did people seem turned off by?
Brian Carroll: Within my own circle of friends, I know that some voted for me even though they support Pro-choice politics. They would post an endorsement of me with an apology that I was Pro-life, but at least I wasn’t ‘one of those’ Pro-life people. Among Pro-life voters, many simply haven’t taken the time to understand Distributism, which led to some false assumptions about our economic policies.
The American Commons: If you had the campaign to do over again, what would you do differently?
Brian Carroll: More time early on fine-tuning my iSideWith page, and developing a more purposeful relationship with some of individuals within the party. I was trying to do that with my travel pre-Covid, but then I let some of that drift as we were trying to figure out what Covid was going to do. Far and away the best decision I made through the whole campaign was picking Amar as my VP. Desmond Silveira guided me through the process of registering in all the states. He was forming working relationships with other parties to address our common needs, visualizing the big picture, looking ahead, and crunching numbers to ferret out any advantage we could find. Amar was the perfect complement to that, coming up with posts and campaign swag. There is simply too much for one person to do. Tai-Chi Kuo was ghosting my Twitter account, but it would have been helpful if I could have recruited someone to ghost Instagram. Matthew Bartko set me up for an Ask Me Anything on Reddit, and several people came together to help backstage on that. Erick Schenkel produced a professional-grade TV commercial, but we could have used a production team in California. I would have been willing to violate lockdown to film better spots. As it was, for the YouTube videos I managed, I had to be on both sides of the camera and then teach myself how to edit. We were late getting yard signs ready, and then Bill Fleming did an amazing job of getting them out. I should have worked on that earlier.
The American Commons: What advice would you give to others considering running for office?
Brian Carroll: Consider your own situation. I was 69 when I ran for Congress. I was not going to have very much time to work my way up through lower offices. If I had been younger, I might have started with City Council or School Board, but when I was younger, it had never seemed the right time. I didn’t really need to be ready to be President, because I don’t think anyone expected us to win. My job was to be the front man for our party platform. Now we need to be grooming candidates who can actually win and serve.
The American Commons: Are you considering running again in the future?
Brian Carroll: No. First, a young party cannot grow in the image of just one leader, it’s not healthy for the party. And, personally, I have no desire to be what we see in our President right now, where his handlers won’t even let him take open questions from the press because it risks showing up his senility. I will be 75 in 2024, and I’m feeling my age. I’m hoping I’m not too old to be a novelist.
The American Commons: What have you been up to since the campaign wrapped?
Brian Carroll: Lots of catching up on stuff that fell by the wayside. I retired and went straight into the campaign, with no chance to discard everything I had collected in 40 years of teaching. I never really had a proper workspace for my campaign, so I’m re-organizing my office, the garage, and a storage shed, and doing yard work. I’m trying to exercise more, and hopefully lose some weight. My wife and I have taken on considerable responsibility for elderly neighbors who had no family, and in the last two months we’ve been helping the husband adjust to being a widower. I’m writing as I can, and still trying to finish the novel that I have had in process for 50 years.
The American Commons: Is there anywhere that people can follow your current work – on social media, or a blog/publication/et cetera?
Brian Carroll: I’m working to resurrect my blog (blog.briantcarroll.com), especially after some of the recent changes on Facebook. I do have both my personal page on Facebook, and a campaign page. If and when I finish my novel, I hope to transition my campaign page (briancarroll.life) into an author page.
The American Commons: Thanks again for your time!
Brian Carroll: You are very welcome. I have really appreciated The American Commons. It started strong from the first issue, and has continued strong with every issue.
James G Hanink
Brian, helpful and engaging…as always!