The American Commons: Ben, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. It’s been about 6 months since your campaign for Wisconsin State Senate wrapped. That was a difficult campaign, but you received 194 votes, which is considerably more than is typical for first-time candidates running on a previously unknown party ticket. Now that you have had some time to reflect on your experience, we’d love to pick your brain a little bit. How did you come around to deciding to run? What was your though process like? Was it a difficult decision? What ultimately convinced you?
Ben Schmitz: Seeing Brian Carroll and others run for office recently convinced me that running candidates is very important for growing the ASP. I also just wanted to give voters in my district the ability to vote for someone who shares their values. I had recently voted for an ASP candidate and found it incredibly freeing. Voting ASP let me step out of the “lesser of two evils” mentality that pushed me to take sides with a party that I didn’t really align with. I was grateful for the opportunity to vote for someone I actually supported. It was really good for me and helped me look independently at the issues. I wanted to give others that opportunity.
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?
Ben Schmitz: The biggest barrier was gathering 400+ signatures in 11 days. It’s not an easy task to talk to that many people. And I still had to work my full-time job, take care of my family, and fulfill normal obligations. It was a stressful week and a half.
The key takeaway I have from signature gathering? Hire someone(s) to help. The most important milestone is getting on the ballot. If you need to spend your whole campaign budget on the signature gathering, it is worth it. I posted a Craigslist ad and found someone within a couple days. He gathered 250 signatures for me.
The American Commons: How did you decide on your campaign theme?
Ben Schmitz: My campaign theme was “Pro-woman and pro-life. Pro-immigrant and pro-jobs. Pro-poor and fiscal responsibility.” In general, I tried to present a solution to the divisive political landscape: taking the good from both major parties. It seems to me the obvious solution to the problem of our divided nation. Democrats de-emphasize one very American value in order to emphasize another. Republicans do the same. This is one of the primary faults of the left/right divide. I wanted to show the obvious: we can hold these values simultaneously.
The American Commons: What were some things that surprised you about the campaign process?
Ben Schmitz: It’s a little naïve, perhaps, but I was surprised by the depth of the partisan bias and political animosity. My neighbors were kind, considerate conversationalists until I revealed my political leanings. Otherwise open-minded people suddenly became defensive and closed off. And in debates and town halls: many, many voters had made up their minds about me before I could speak. The only thing that mattered to them was my political party. I wasn’t on their team, so I wasn’t worth listening to. It’s very sad to experience first hand.
However, I had many hopeful interactions too. Those willing to listen generally really liked ASP values and proposals. We’ll need to gather a critical mass of those people in order to gain the ear of the majority.
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?
Ben Schmitz: It went by faster than I expected. I only had a few town halls/news speaking engagements to interact with the public. It didn’t feel like enough time to build momentum and get my name out there.
The American Commons: What are some things that you learned on the campaign trail?
Ben Schmitz: Think long term. It’s not all about winning this race. It’s not all about maximizing votes.
The American Commons: Are there any encouraging stories from the campaign that stick out to you?
Ben Schmitz: During one debate I directed a hard question to the Democratic candidate, Melissa Winker. I asked her if she supported the Democratic Governor’s move to repeatedly call Emergency Orders after the Legislature ended them (a move the State Supreme Court declared illegal). At first, she avoided contradicting the move, but after the debate went out of her way to let me know she changed her mind and felt that the Governor should act within the bounds of the law, but that the law should be changed. I was a little surprised to find that another candidate was willing to seriously consider my points.
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?
Ben Schmitz: With those who listened, yes absolutely. I think our platform resonates with a large percentage of the electorate, in fact. The challenge is garnering enough attention to give voters the chance to consider the ASP. Most won’t even consider the ASP because it’s not a major party.
The American Commons: What elements of your campaign did people seem the most drawn to?
Ben Schmitz: The Pro-life for the Whole Life message. There is a hypocrisy in the Democratic and Republican positions on life, and when people hear the Whole Life message it resonates with them intuitively.
Also, just general dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and Democratic Party. People vote for them, but generally don’t like them.
The American Commons: What elements of your campaign seemed did people seem turned off by?
Ben Schmitz: At first, I didn’t have accessible language. People needed to put my opinions in boxes in order to understand them. A good slogan was easier to understand than a nuanced position. A nuanced position takes time to communicate. A slogan gives people a general sense of my perspective in two seconds. Elevator pitches and slogans are useful for communicating.
The American Commons: If you had the campaign to do over again, what would you do differently?
Ben Schmitz: Forget ads and billboards. At this stage of the ASP, the ground game is what matters. I would spend all my campaign budget hiring campaign staff to go door-to-door with yard signs.
The American Commons: Do you feel that your state is fertile ground for American Solidarity Party candidates, or is the Democratic/Republican stranglehold still pretty firm?
Ben Schmitz: Yes and yes. The country is frozen by this dualistic mindset of left/right, them vs. us. Fear of the “other side” drives voters to accept bad options. The fear dynamic pushes voters into closed-minded, defensive decision-making. If we can break through the barrier of fear, the solidarity perspective can change politics into something hopeful and motivating for each person stuck in the fear dynamic. Breaking the barrier is tough, but once we do, there’s an opportunity for big movements.
Wisconsin is fertile ground for this big movement because we’re a purple state with values that generally align well with the ASP platform. The tension between what voters believe and what voters choose to support is higher than most states, I think.
The American Commons: What advice would you give to others considering running for office?
Ben Schmitz: Just do it. And do it again. Be determined and get on the ballot. It’s not about you or your fame or your career or your success in politics. It’s about your fellow Americans, your society, and the solidarity movement.
The American Commons: Are you considering running again in the future?
Ben Schmitz: Yes. I’m seriously considering a 2022 run for US Congress, either Senate or House.
The American Commons: What have you been up to since the campaign wrapped?
Ben Schmitz: My third child was born, my consulting company doubled in size to 25 employees, and some other men and I started a fraternal organization called the Brotherhood of Saint Joseph, a lay religious order/workers’ co-op of sorts wherein men pray together, work together in businesses, build up one another in “formation,” and spend profits on charitable works. Working on converting my consulting company into a subsidiary of this org.
The American Commons: Is there anywhere that people can follow your current work – on social media, or a blog/publication/et cetera?
Ben Schmitz: Like my Facebook page.
The American Commons: Thanks again for your time!
[Stay tuned in the coming weeks for our sit-down conversation with former California Governer candidate James Hanink!]