Tom Olohan: Hello Michael, I’m Tom Olohan from the Rabble Rouser. For our readers, Michael DeSantis is the former campaign manager for Chris Shoffner, who ran for House Representative in North Carolina’s 41st District. He is currently the CEO and Founder of American Dream Capitol and Consulting. He has accomplished all this while working on several other campaigns before he turned eighteen.
Now Michael, a large percentage of our readers are college students. As you have no doubt heard and even experienced in high school, academia can be a very stifling environment for conservatives. Many people are afraid to speak up for fear that no one in the room agrees with them and that they will be persecuted for their views. That’s why I felt very inspired by your story, because you reminded me of a few people who really helped me become a bolder activist. Could you tell our readers how you became an activist? How you were inspired to speak out about the American Dream?
Michael DeSantis: Running all these campaigns kind of forced me into the role. I’m currently taking some classes in politics and its kind of funny, but my classes have limited me to a certain amount of comments per class because I try to talk on every single issue and rebut liberal propaganda that you might hear in class. I just find it a little funny that my free speech gets limited and it’s a little scary. For example, our teacher gave us an open-ended question or a kind of a poll and said, “Do you want freedom?” and everyone raised their hand. And he asked if they wanted something else and almost all still raised their hand, although a few hands dropped. He then asked, “Do you want small government?” and she said it with kind of the intention that you have smaller government you have freedom and almost no one had their hands raised. The last thing she asked was, “Do you want free speech?” Only about five people had their hands up at this point. Now for me, freedom of speech is one of the most important issues we have to fight for every generation because without it we won’t allow for dissenting opinions. Say right now, in the next decade or so, it’s most likely going to be Republican rule so the Democrats or liberals are going to want to have free speech to broadcast their ideas and I think we should allow them to voice these ideas. But these past 10 years, I mean, you know it, being in school as a conservative, you just don’t really get that. Because we’re kind of the dissenting opinion on campus.
Tom: To be sure, students can often feel, even if they have free speech, they can feel that they will be shamed for their views in front of the whole class and that they’re alone.
Michael: I get that. I just don’t really care anymore because there are enough professors that are either conservative or maybe leaning towards it where if you voice your opinion you can at least change some minds and be with people you want to be with.
Tom: I understand that in classes that you’re in other students will be encouraged to speak up. Now, what advice would you give to students who feel trapped by their academic environment, students who feel alone? They may not be, but they often feel that they are.
Michael: I’m lucky enough to have teachers that are either Republican, apolitical, or just non-biased. I’d like to see all professors be non-biased, that way people can voice their opinion openly in class, but yes some students don’t have that luxury. It’s , scary, so I believe that you just have to gauge it in the first week or so. Grades are a lot more important than voicing your opinion which sounds sad but I think Ben Shapiro, who is likely an icon to your followers, said that he spoke like himself in class and then wrote like Bernie Sanders on his exams, because he wanted to get good grades. In a way, you just have to play their game. It’s sad, but it is just the way things are. We’ll play their game now and once we’re out of college, we’ll be a lot more successful.
Tom: Unlike most of us, you became successful before you went to college, so can you tell us a little more about your organization, American Dream Capitol and Consulting. It’s always interesting when someone takes a really difficult situation and transforms it into an incredible opportunity, so I’m sure all of our readers would love to hear about your efforts there.
Michael: Of course, so the general idea was that when I was much younger, maybe sophomore year, I had too many people tell me that the American Dream was dead or that American identity is gone and I just was heartbroken by that. I saw all these people who are in poverty in our country and even underemployed and dreams not being followed. That’s why I started this organization for the sole purpose of giving people the opportunity to achieve their dreams. All it takes is some hard work and a hand up. I think Republicans are known for that. They always want to give people a hand up and not a hand out.
Tom: It sounds like a great organization and I think a lot of Republicans such as Paul Ryan, Ben Sasse, and Tim Scott are increasingly emphasizing this point. I’m sure you’re asked this often, but are there any former politicians who inspired you to start this organization?
Michael: No, no particular politician. I do think that its very important for all politicians to inspire people. For example, Trump’s only been in office for about a couple weeks, but he’s inspired millions and millions of people. Those are the people that are going to be making a change in our communities that we’ll be able to see. We haven’t seen too much change because it’s only been about two weeks, so you can’t really blame the guy, but every single president has to be inspirational. Even fictional politicians like Mr. Smith when he goes to Washington, that movie back in the 1930’s, that inspired many people and politicians to follow their dreams. I think, as a whole, all politicians kind of inspired me to do this, because, they, with their rhetoric and speeches, inspire millions of people to go out and do the right thing.
Tom: I see. Yes, and Trump certainly succeeded in that, and he…
Michael: Yeah, I was invited to his inauguration and it was really touching to hear his speech about the forgotten man. We’ve seen it on campus and across the country and a couple nights ago, especially at UC Berkeley, that there’s a lot of people who are upset about it, but we also see a lot of people crying of happiness that he’s president. I think that’s really special. When I got to go to that inauguration, I saw all these smiling faces and tears of joy and it was really a touching moment, and I think that Trump said that on the campaign trail, that, in the beginning he might have not been whole-heartedly into it, but once he got on to the trail and started talking to people and hearing what their problems have been over the last five to ten years, and hearing them open up to him, he was really touched by them . And I kind of feel the same way when I was on the trail for JJ Sommerell or Chris Shoffner. For those two races, the Congressional Race and the State House Race, people would even do that for us. We were a much smaller race, but it’s really touching, and its what keeps me going, being in politics. Its not the easiest job you’ll see, and your readers will see, but it’s really, it makes it all worth it, seeing these smiling faces and all these people who really do believe in you and believe that you can make better change for the country.
Tom: That’s very impressive. It sounds like this election was, in many ways, extremely unique, considering how much it inspired people. I’ve been intrigued by some of your proposals for campaign finance that use this election as an example. Trump was able to succeed without spending nearly as much money as Clinton. Setting aside for a moment the power of that inspiration that so many people felt, the message of the forgotten man, how would you convince candidates to forego traditional campaign spending for a website? Could you describe your website proposal for our readers and address the difficulty of persuading well-funded candidates to use it?
Michael: So first of all, this website would be a state website that every state would have because every state runs their own elections. The way that you would do that is to just ask candidates who are in the race for the primary or for the general election to give their platform and to put it up there. There would also be a form on there and an email for whenever constituents have questions they can answer. This way other people can see their reply. We’ll have just a small thing for all the TV interviews and the town halls and stuff they might go to. This way you get a full picture of what that candidate has without them having to spend any money and that way it’s a level playing field for both candidates. There’s no money involved, there’s an even playing field, and it might even open up doors for other parties. Right now, we have Republicans and Democrats and they dominate the field because they have the most money and maybe if we have this plan, we might be able to see other parties, like the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, or even more. We’ll get a lot better variety and realize the Republican philosophy: that more choices mean that we’ll likely get better choices.
Tom: Perhaps we could have a situation where you have McMullin, Johnson, and Stein all up on the debate stage with the other two in October and September?
Michael: Yes, and I’d love to go to Britain’s way of elections where the elections are only six weeks long. It would be a lot easier on me.
Tom: I’m sure it would. I’m going to ask a question to follow up on that which is probably above, as Obama would say, of most people’s pay grade. You’ve spoken about reforming campaign finance and limiting spending in elections. Considering the Citizen’s United decision and ever increasing spending by Super-PACs is there a way to constitutionally limit campaign spending that you’ve thought about? Is limiting it a part of the plan? Or is just providing an alternative and hoping that people will support that instead?
Michael: It would be providing them this alternative and kind of forcing them to stop using campaign finance, and it would have to be a two-pronged approach. You would have to stop campaign finance for this to actually work. What I have seen is that not many people will go out and research their candidate so we will have to address this by taking money out of politics. I guess there’s a lot of different ways you have to do it. One way could be term limits, with lobbying, and also just the biggest thing would be taking government out of the entire picture. I mean, think about it, why do all these businesses, special interests, want to gain influence in government? It is because government does so much. If government didn’t do anything, if they did what they were supposed to do, just protected our rights, not by being the biggest business in the entire world, then none of these businesses would have any interest in buying these elections. So it’s a real argument for smaller government, because if there were smaller government, there would be a lot less money in politics. No one is going to be spending a million dollars on a Congressional race, if they’re not going to do anything for your business.
Tom: Exactly, as Reagan would say “the scariest words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’”, (laughter) but hopefully we’ll be able to make some headway on that. In recent years, we’ve seen younger voters choose to vote for Democrats in overwhelming numbers. Now we’ve both bucked that trend and you’ve probably heard the old saying “if you’re conservative when you’re young you have no heart but if you’re liberal when you’re old you have no brain.” Do you expect the Republican Party to resonate with these voters as they grow older and more experienced and if not how would you suggest that conservatives appeal to younger voters?
Michael: It’s easy, you just invest in these communities. At least in this past election, Hillary didn’t invest in the rust belt, so she lost those states. It’s easy, if you don’t go and listen to the voters and see what their problems are, they’re not going to vote for you. With any industry in the world, how are you going to expect someone to buy your product if you’re not even willing to be there to sell it to them? We just need to be on college campuses and invest in that and then I think people will come our way. Think about it, if all of your professors are Democrats, if all the student organizations are Democrats, all the students are Democrats, then of course you’re going to be a Democrat. I wouldn’t blame you for being a Democrat, you’re brought up in it. If we actually had Republicans in there as administrative officials, professors, or students and there’s a presence on campus, of course we’ll see a lot more people become Republicans. Its just an investment thing, and I think it’s the same thing with many minority communities. The Republican Party doesn’t have much of an investment in those communities. Maybe we’ll see a change in that and it’s also been said that this generation is one of the most conservative generations. Maybe that’s because of the recession, I’m not really sure what leads us to that, but there have been some studies about that.
Tom: I see. That’s very encouraging. One of the reasons I thought to ask you that question is because you have experience working in an area that was not receptive to Republicans rather like younger voters are. The district you campaigned in last time traditionally elects Democrats by wide margins. Can you tell us a little more about that campaign?
Michael: Yes, since I was an eighteen year old and now a nineteen year old , I didn’t get the cream-of-the-crop campaigns. They don’t give you the easy-to-win campaigns, so I just take what I can get. I was given the campaign in an area that had a 70-30 Democrat to Republican ratio. In the other race, the statehouse race where we lost by 100 votes, Trump lost that District 65-35, so it was not an easy race for us in that statehouse race. During that race, we only had $7000 compared to our opponent who had half a million. That’s why we’re proving that money doesn’t always win. We still didn’t win, but we came close to winning, so money isn’t the end-all-be-all for campaigns.
Tom: Certainly, it should not be possible to get such a close result with such an incredible funding disadvantage if money were the only factor. Now you’ve already addressed this to a certain extent, but were there any insights gained on that particular campaign that would help Republicans appeal to younger voters, minority voters, and other voters who have increasingly voted for the other party?
Michael: Other than listening to people’s problems, I think that’s pretty broad based on any race you do. You just have to listen to their problems and formulate a solution for them that kind of speaks their language. With millennials or young people, we just have a different way of receiving messages than people from older generations. We might get our news from social media. That might be one way that we attract those kinds of voters. Even just the language we use to kind of form our positions is important. I mean, Democrats call it income inequality, Republicans call it economic opportunity. It’s just these simple terms that pretty much mean the same thing, but the parties use different terms. Going that route I think will help break some ground in these communities. But the biggest thing is to actually have a presence there. If you don’t have a presence there, you’re not going to be able to get their vote. I wish that I could give more insight into how to get these voters, but it really is different for every community, for every voter and I think that’s the biggest thing we need to learn. You can’t have a broad-based campaign that works for everybody because every single voter is different.
Tom: I see. Would you say that the Republican Party has mostly failed to do so with these groups up until this point, but that Republicans were fortunate that the Democrats failed to do it during this election with Hillary Clinton?
Michael: I don’t think either of the parties do that good of a job. People might think that the Democrats do a good job on that, but they really don’t do anything to provide anything for these communities. These communities still vote for Democrats though, because they still have a presence there. If everyone around you is a Democrat, you’re going to likely be a Democrat. A lot of people, if their parents are Republican or their parents are Democrats, will likely grow up to be a member of the same party. That’s just the way things are. If you actually read or find other points of view, which should be the case on college campuses, you might get a different result. All different philosophies should be talked about to help you formulate your own opinion. No one should be telling you what to think and how to think. I mean that’s like 1984 and I really think we’re on the brink of seeing that happen with the thought police.
Tom: This brings me to a few issues that our society seems to demand uniformity on even more. As a fellow Catholic, I have noticed that there are usually many voices in the Republican Party that suggest that our chances of victory would be significantly greater if we marginalized or took another position on several social issues. While the vast majority of the party has moved on from the gay marriage debate since the Supreme Court decision, what do you think is the future direction of the Republican Party on abortion and religious liberty? Can young voters be brought to support a conservative position on these issues or does the party need to change more?
Michael: I think, here’s the thing about all issues, not all issues have to be binary, we don’t have to be for abortion or against abortion. I don’t think anyone on the face of the planet, other than Lena Dunham, wants to get an abortion. Even the most pro-choice person, isn’t looking forward to getting an abortion. The way in which we do this, at least for the abortion issue, is to promote other alternatives to abortion, to lower the abortion rate. If we look at the states that practice abstinence or have very little sexual education we see that those states have the highest abortion rates or the highest teen pregnancies, so one would see that we need to provide better sexual education. Another way is to provide other contraceptives. I don’t think the government should pay for any of that, but I think that promoting alternatives to abortion is a fine thing to do. Then again, I don’t think the government should pay or be involved in any of that. I don’t think the government should pay for a lot of things. As for religious issues, I don’t see one issue in which the government should be involved in it. If it’s a business, let the business do whatever it wants. If they want to deny gay people, let them do that. You think the social justice people on the left are going to let that go? We’ve seen them protest just about anything, so if a business really wants to jeopardize their company by denying someone access to their services, I say let them do that. The free market will have someone come in and provide that service. I really don’t see any issue with the government having anything to do with either of those. Of course we need to let people believe what they want to believe, but what’s the government’s role in that? And yes, I’m Catholic, but I don’t think the government has a role in telling people how to think and how to live their lives.
Tom: These can be sensitive issues, I know that the North Carolina law, House Bill 2, which was in response to an issue like this, caused quite a bit of trouble in North Carolina.
Michael: Yes, so here’s the thing with House Bill 2. I came on with the Lieutenant Governor at the time that the religious freedom law in Indiana came out, a couple years ago during the final four for basketball, and that caused all sorts of problems. I came on and said, “hey let’s try the best we can not to do anything like this,” and then a year later the same thing happened, the same outcry happened. The thing with either of them was, it doesn’t do anything. One thing that I really hate about politics is all these symbolic bills like this, celebrating people, just memories, remembering something. It’s just a waste of taxpayer money and a waste of time. The bills didn’t do anything, you can do whatever you want. No one is going to come in and see what parts you got, so it’s really a waste of time and a waste of taxpayer money for any of these types of bills I think.
Tom: Do you plan to eventually write bills yourself? Are you planning to join a think tank or make a Congressional Run later in life? The process seems to be changing quickly.
Michael: I would like to run later in life and I am working with some think tanks, none that are working on religious freedom though. I do think everyone should believe what they want to believe and we should protect that. I don’t think that issue needs government involvement. I think what Donald Trump is doing right now is allowing churches to have political opinions to kind of campaign for candidates or give donations, that’s a good thing. It kind of just frees up things. Even though it goes against my whole idea of money in politics, they should still be able to voice their opinions.
Tom: Thank you Michael, I hope you do run someday and I’m sure with all this experience that you’ll do well. You definitely have a bright future.
Michael: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.