[The following are excerpts (this time both on strategy) from my new book Don’t Think Of A Republican – How I Won A Republican Primary As A Lefty Progressive And You Can Too, which recounts the rhetoric and game plan of satirical candidate H.F. Valentine’s unprecedented 2022 primary run. See the whole book here.]
Excerpt from H.F. Valentine’s Interview with Rachel Barman, KPPX Radio
Rachel Barman: Mr. Valentine, a large portion of your district is made up of Evangelical Christians. How do you expect to appeal to those voters?
H.F. Valentine: That’s kind of a weird question, but ok. I would appeal to them by speaking their language. You know in church sometimes they tell you to stand up and look to the person to your right and say something welcoming to your neighbor and then to turn to your left and do the same thing.
Well, I’m telling my voters to look to the phony politician on this side of me, and then look to the phony politician on that side of me. And then tell those phony politicians, “Phony politicians, you’re not my neighbor. Get the fuck out of here. And take your donors with you.”
RB: But even that, Mr. Valentine. You must know that cursing like that will turn off a significant portion of Christian voters.
HFV: Oh, you think Christians don’t curse? You think Christians all sound like June and Ward Cleaver, is that what you’re saying? I bet you also don’t think Christians drink and smoke weed, or get filthy in the sheets.
Christians live in the world, just like you and me. They’re not caricatures. They’re people.
Plus, Donald Trump was the President. And curse words were the least of his sins.
RB: But you yourself have said you’re an atheist.
HFV: What I said was that I’m no longer a believer. And when I say that, what I mean is that I am no longer someone who believes in biblical literalism. Which is not very much different from the bulk of my Christian heroes.
This is really about labels more than anything else. And as I’ve said over and over, a label can mean anything you want it to mean. That’s why my opponents love pointing it out.
But just because I do not subscribe to the label, does not mean I cannot appreciate the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, if you are a Christian and you let your faith guide your political participation, I would contend the policies I am advocating for are the closest to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth of anyone running, and that the policies of my opponents, no matter how Christian they claim to be, are inspired not by those teachings but rather the teachings of Republican Party donors.
Whether it’s stewardship of the earth, or how we treat the stranger, or turning the other cheek, or being judged by how we treat the least among us, Jesus’ key example was one of being a radical in resistance to injustice.
And if we want to talk about labels, I think that Christians ought to be furious that so many of our politicians, my opponents included, have co-opted the label of Christian for their own political gain and have tried to twist it, to redefine it, as something Jesus of Nazareth would have most certainly railed against.
RB: But your opponents say that it’s you that has co-opted the preacher style of oratory for your campaign. One even went as far as to say it’s blasphemous.
HFV: I talk like that because that’s the world I was brought up in. So I know that world. I understand that world. And I also understand blasphemy. And what I think is blasphemous is when you use the name of Christ to pimp yourself for corporations.
What I think is blasphemous is turning Christianity into something it’s not for political gain.
So I don’t really care what my opponents say about me. All I care is what my voters think. And what I would tell my Christian voters is: Don’t let them tell you what being a Christian is. Don’t let them tell you the Prince of Peace was pro-war. Don’t let them tell you the man who flipped over the money changers’ tables in the temple would put profit before people. Don’t let them tell you the man who washed the feet of the poor would demonize those in poverty and instead do the bidding of billionaires. Don’t let them tell you that’s who Christ was. That’s what’s blasphemous. And you know it.
If there’s one thing I’m still a biblical literalist on, it’s that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
My opponents aren’t trying to build a better future for the average person. They’re trying to build the world’s largest needle.
I’m not gonna lie. This was a big one. Because so many people have consciously or subconsciously tied their political beliefs to their religious beliefs, I cannot understate how easy it would have been to blow it on this one issue.
Running as an unabashed non-believer, it was vital that I took voters’ religious identities seriously, something they hadn’t really expected a lefty to do. In my district, that meant being knowledgeable of Christianity, to the point of pulling out scripture to counter my opponents’ attacks.
Though I was careful not to overdo it. My advantage in the race was that I came to them from a place of honesty, something my opponents could only fake.
As I had bet on, this contrast in honesty provided a persistent element of surprise throughout the campaign, allowing voters who might have otherwise seen me as a godless interloper to instead view my thoughtful but no-bullshit approach as starkly refreshing.
The FTS Caucus
Excerpt from H.F. Valentine’s Interview with Jeff Hall, Channel-8 WFMU
Jeff Hall: What do you say to voters who say that H.F. Valentine isn’t one of us?
H.F. Valentine: I’d tell them to think about what they mean by “one of us.” Because I ain’t one of these carpetbagging candidates like Hillary Clinton, who moved to New York and told everyone she deserved a Senate seat. Hell, I’m from the district where I’m running.
I’d tell them, “I have the same social and cultural references that you all have. And I’m closer to you than any multi-millionaire politician wined and dined by Washington lobbyists ever was and ever will be.”
I’d tell them, “You think these old school Republicans in Congress know what your daily existence looks like? If they did, their biggest fight in the last ten years would have been something in your interest, and not tax cuts for the rich.”
JH: But that’s just it. Some hear you denounce Republican tax policy and say you can’t possibly be a Republican.
HFV: That’s because we think in terms of rigid political labels.
JH: Then what label would you prefer?
HFV: None of them. Because none of them really mean anything, if they can be twisted to mean anything. If you need to identify me by some concrete political vision, I would prefer to be known as the dude who wants better education for his kids, just like you. The dude who wants better healthcare for his family and neighbors, just like you. The dude who wants strong roads and bridges so my car don’t fall into a giant hole in the highway like some b-rate horror movie.
I want air that doesn’t make me question if it’s a good idea to go for a walk and water that doesn’t make me think about holding it up to the light before drinking it. I want an agricultural system that doesn’t kill bees or family farms, and I want a planet I don’t have to fear for. Dare I say, just like you.
I’m uninterested in what you choose to call me, just like I’m uninterested in what rival campaigns choose to call me. You could put all the bad labels together for all I care. Call me a Commulist Anarcrat. No consultant-manufactured descriptor is going to change the fact that I want the same things in my life as the voters want in theirs.
JH: But you can’t deny, if you were to win, your policies would be closer to those of the Squad than Republican leadership in the House.
HFV: And you can’t deny the only reason why the Squad is in the Democratic Party is because we don’t have a parliamentary system.
You think the Squad enjoys being in a party with Nancy Pelosi? Hell no.
They live in blue districts, and I live in a district that is Ronnie Reagan Red.
JH: So you’re essentially saying you would be a Democrat if you lived in a blue district.
HFV: If I lived in a blue district, I would be just what I am right now. An independent playing the game, a game I did not write the rules to, but one I intend on winning. Not for me, but for all of us.
I’m not running to make a statement. I’m running to win. And in my district that means running as a Republican. But more than that, it means asking Republican voters to take a long look at what it means to be a Republican. As well as asking why they agree with the majority of my policy positions, but everybody in the pundit world is screaming at them that I couldn’t possibly be “one of them.”
JH: Why not run third party?
HFV: Why would I? If I wanted to run third party and lose, I’d run for President.
Third party. You act like we live in the future. I’d have a better chance of becoming Mayor of Mars.
Seriously, why run third party and lose, when you can interparty caucus and get shit done?
JH: What do you mean by interparty caucus?
HFV: Just what I said. When I get to Congress, I’m looking to get shit done. I’m not here to be a nobody in my party. I’m here to be a somebody in a caucus.
JH: But there are no interparty caucuses.
HFV: Well, there will be come Election Day. See, I know why you’re asking all this. You’re trying to be polite. But just go ahead and say it. Am I going to be a Trojan Horse? Am I going to get through the gates and then unleash common-sense, uncorrupted policies to improve the quality of life of the average citizen? Yes I am. I am going to be that Trojan Horse.
JH: I don’t know if your candidacy is being described as a Trojan Horse as much as it is a Manchurian Candidacy.
HFV: Oh, I’m not a Manchurian Candidate. I’m something far more dangerous than that. I’m an honest man with a crooked plan.
See, I don’t need a third party, when I can just start my own caucus. A caucus open to Republicans and Democrats, but closed to lobbyists and big business.
JH: But why a caucus?
HFV: Because there’s power in numbers. If you’re one outlier in a party, even if you’re saying what voters have been waiting to hear, they, being the Party and the media, can paint you as a loon and ignore you. But if you’re part of a group of outliers saying the things that voters have waited their whole lives to hear a politician say? Well, then they gotta take your ass seriously.
JH: And what do you plan to call this caucus?
HFV: I’m calling it the FTS Caucus.
JH: And what does FTS stand for?
HFV: It stands for the reaction that each and every one of us feel when we’re faced with the reality of where we’re at in America. To put it plainly, it stands for “Fuck That Shit.” As in, inequality is at the highest levels since the Great Depression? Fuck that shit! We spent a trillion dollars on a military plane that we ain’t never gonna use? Fuck that shit! Countries all over the world subsidize college, and we got elementary teachers paying for school supplies out of their own money? FUCK THAT SHIT!
And if you don’t like the F-word, then we can skip to the co-meaning of the FTS Caucus. And that is to “Fix That Shit.” Because, see, this isn’t just about complaining; this is about finding solutions. Health insurance premiums are still too high with crazy-ass deductibles, and I still could go bankrupt? Well, if we institute a universal coverage single payer system like the rest of the world has, we just fixed that shit.
JH: And you’re serious about this?
HFV: Hell, yeah, I’m serious. If you’ve got an interparty caucus, you don’t need a third party. If you’ve got flex membership, you can tackle all kinds of issues.
JH: What does that mean, flex membership?
HFV: It means membership in the FTS caucus is on an issue by issue basis. Meaning someone can join with the FTS caucus on a specific issue, and once that shit is fixed, they can go back and tow whatever party line they want.
Because, remember, hardly any of these solutions are supported by the establishment in either party. So it’s not like you’re going over to the other side. You’re just acknowledging that no party is perfect and some issues can’t wait on the Hatfields and the McCoys to go bowling together.
JH: But who makes the policies?
HFV: The permanent members of the caucus. And that doesn’t mean permanent members have to vote with the caucus on every issue either. There may be an issue here or there where they disagree with the other members. And that’s ok. As long as they stand with us on the issues we agree on, then we maintain our impact. So between permanent members and those willing to temporarily join us on issues that simply can’t wait forever, we should at least start moving toward getting some shit done.
JH: But what about the language? You’ve been criticized before about your language, and the name of the caucus you’re proposing uses profanity for two of the three words in its name.
HFV: What do you want me to say? If you don’t want to say fuck that shit, say forget that shit, and then say fix that shit. If you don’t want to say shit, then say stuff. Or better yet say system. We have to fix our system, because right now our system is broke as… well, I think you know what I want to say.
Look, I know some people are sensitive about so-called profanity. But are they more turned off by a string of letters than they are someone serving a 10-year sentence for stealing a sandwich? Are they more turned off by a dirty word than they are the fact that half a million people are homeless in the richest nation in the world?
JH: I was referring more to parents who might not want their children to hear such words used by a political leader in Washington.
HFV: Then don’t let your kids watch my campaign video. You know what – on second thought, let your kids watch my campaign video. Because this is the shit they’re gonna have to be dealing with if you don’t elect fools like me to shoot straight with your ass.
So yeah, kids, excuse my language but don’t excuse these assholes in Congress. Tell your parents to quit bullshitting with your future and vote for candidates who pledge to be in the FTS Caucus. It’s the least they can do, if they’re not assholes too.
There was no getting around having to defend, which is why we preemptively defended, against the grumblings of such a candidacy being a Trojan Horse or some Manchurian bullshit.
It’s why, during the campaign, I talked openly about what I mean when I say the word “radical.” Because so much of the media, and so many politicians, like to define the term the same way they define extremism, I figured a lot of not-so-political folks and middle-of-the-road voters might hear the word radical thrown around, and it would be scary to them.
But, as I said on the campaign trail, the word radical, in the sense that I use it and the people who share my beliefs use it, simply derives from the Latin “radic” or “radix,” meaning “root.” So when I say that I’m radical in my politics, it just means that I believe to get to a solution, you have to look at the root of the problem. That’s why I talk so much about money in politics. I believe the legalized bribery institutionalized into our political system is the root of so many of our policy problems.
In a speech I gave later that week, I said, “So when you hear me use words like radical or revolutionary or institutional or structural, it just means that I’m looking to the actual roots of the issue in how to address it. Furthermore, I see no reason to hide the fact that not only am I radical in my political views, I am radical in my economic views. I personally advocate for moving beyond capitalism to a better system. And for any of those listening who are saying, ‘I knew it. I knew it. I knew this campaign wasn’t about politics, but really about brainwashing me into being one of those Pinko Commie Bastards my uncle used to talk about,’ I’m sorry to disappoint you. That’s not what this campaign is about. I personally want to move beyond market and centrally planned socialism as well. The reason why I’m bringing all this up is the same reason why I think it’s important for a lefty candidate running in a GOP primary to be transparent about their motives. All this campaign is really about is freeing up our political system from the grip of corruption and seeing where democracy actually takes us. And that’s all getting money out of politics is about. Seeing where democracy actually takes us.”
After that speech, pundits were placing bets on when I would leave the race. They just couldn’t imagine a Republican primary candidate explicitly saying they wanted out of capitalism and still being considered viable. But I knew that if you can get people to take you seriously, based upon nothing more than their belief that you are an honest person, they will listen to what you have to say. They may not follow you into the revolution, but they will give you the benefit of the doubt. And that’s really all you can ask for.