Randy “Ironstache” Bryce’s campaign launch ad began with a heartfelt testimonial about the value of healthcare, but soon pivoted to a bold and brilliant rebel yell for the American middle class to wake the hell up and toss Paul Ryan out of Congress. It hit the political world like an asteroid strike.
Bryce is exactly what Democrats need. The party didn’t require an autopsy report to determine what went wrong last year. It’s literally written all over the map. As the country faces the turning of another election season, Dems have been holding a kind of open casting call for veterans, women, and any candidate who could win back working class voters.
Bryce is not a household name, but he has American household values. He checks the right boxes for every liberal issue, and offers an authentic, working-class response to the Trump kleptocracy.
Wisconsin’s 1st District covers Kenosha, Racine, Waukesha, Milwaukee, Walworth, and Rock counties. Trump only won the district by a point. Ryan has won it by high double digits for years. Bryce is a long shot, no doubt, but he has deep grassroots connections. Add in Ryan’s cowardice in the face of the Trump debacle that’s now dragging down the country, and you have the recipe for a Democratic upset. This is already the David and Goliath matchup of 2018.
Last week, I spoke with Bryce.
Steve King: The 1st district spans a large area of your corner in the state, much of it, like the rest of the region, hard hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs. You’ve stated that the Iron Workers Union was your “ticket into the middle class.” How can that middle class be built back up in the district and other similar places around the country?
Randy Bryce: First of all, I am a working person and my values are a working person’s values. I know what it’s like to get up and pack a lunch and go work on a job that involves literally building the community. For instance, I think what we need to do is have a demand that we buy American things. When I go buy tools, first of all I go to a local shop, where it’s somebody I can see and meet at the store, and then what I do is look for the American flag on tools, something that says “Made In America” because in our district Amazon recently built a warehouse, there’s another big business that specializes in shipping places but a majority of those goods aren’t made here in the U.S…. It seems like we’re getting into buying whatever is cheapest, but I remember a time driving my dad’s ‘66 Plymouth Fury, and the thing was built like a tank. If we look at the long term, let’s get back to building American-made quality products, not the cheapest thing that we’re going to have to replace every week.
SK: You’ve described Paul Ryan as “full blown Washington” and said that he’s never in the district, that he runs as if he were a Democrat, that he’s either afraid of the district or doesn’t care about the district. Yet he keeps winning. How does your version of the district differ with his?
RB: The majority of the district are working people. As I’m talking to Trump voters who were saying they were going to support me, their main issue is they’re fed up with Washington D.C. and they’re being ignored and seeing me as a working person just being in the district, willing to listen to them, and talk to them and hear them and what their issues are, is extremely helpful. There’s a huge amount of buyer’s remorse going on in the district now, and also the fact that a lot of conservatives are seeing that Paul Ryan was talking about having these supposed amazing ideas on how to fix the country… well, now he’s Speaker of the House. He decides what legislation is going to get heard in Congress. You have a Republican president, Republican Senate, and a very conservative leaning Supreme Court, yet they are unable to do anything. They’re sitting in the driver’s seat and the car’s not going anywhere.
SK: How do you deal with jumping into a race that has been this nationalized so quickly? This is the 2018 race in a nutshell. How do you deal with that much attention?
RB: It’s keeping me busy. I don’t have to worry about being bored. It’s pretty surreal that it blew up as big as it did. But it also reaffirms my conviction that I’m doing something right, because of the enormous amount of support that I’ve been getting. It’s knowing I’m doing the right thing, you get that feeling like you’re in the right place at the right time. I get that every morning when I wake up. I have not had one bad day since I’ve been doing this.
SK: Wisconsin’s biggest export recently seems to be Republican leadership in that Paul Ryan was the 2012 GOP VP nominee, now he’s Speaker. Reince Priebus was the national Republican Party chairman before becoming President Trump’s first chief of staff. Scott Walker won three elections in two terms as governor before running for president himself. Ron Johnson is still there. With Trump winning the state last year, is Wisconsin just a red state now?
RB: You just need to look at the last election. There were tens of thousands more votes cast for Democratic candidates than for Republican candidates, yet because of gerrymandering more Republicans gained seats in the state. It’s a perversion of democracy, along with voter suppression and gerrymandering. This is not what democracy looks like.
SK: Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock, Pennsylvania recently said in an interview that while he was campaigning in the fall for Hillary Clinton, he was talking to union leaders and reps, and he was getting warnings that while the union leaders were behind Clinton, a ton of union members were still voting for Trump. What would you say is happening when something like that has clearly occurred across a wide swath of the country? Why are so many unions members turning on their own interests?
RB: When Donald Trump was here he talked like a working person. A couple of our members, ironworkers, voted for Trump. He had a message. You’d see him with a hardhat on and he said what workers wanted to hear. I warned everybody “Nothing says let’s stick it to the man like voting for a billionaire, right?” Look at his record. He’s stiffed workers his whole career. That’s how he got to where he is. There’s nothing this man is going to do for you. And now after the fact, when I see a brother or sister ironworker on a job who voted for Trump I’ll walk up to them and say “You know this conversation will end if you can tell me one thing. Name one promise that Donald Trump made to you that he’s kept.” Across the board there’re all kinds of buyer’s remorse going on. He had a message that sounded good, but I knew he had no intent on keeping that message.
SK: Did Clinton, and Democrats, take Wisconsin for granted? Can it ever be won back? Shouldn’t it be the first state that Democrats want to win back?
BR: I think winning it back is definitely doable. Wisconsin would be a great place to do it. I’m looking forward to being a part of it. I do think there was a lack of enthusiasm in Wisconsin voting for a presidential candidate who did not make a stop here. I met O’Malley and I spoke at a Bernie rally. I got to meet them and talk to them. I get a good feel for a candidate by looking them in the eye and I wasn’t able to do that with Hillary. I was really looking forward to meeting her. And I know that there were people who were disappointed she didn’t make the trip here.
SK: You endorsed Bernie Sanders and campaigned for Hillary Clinton after the primaries. Where are you now on this intra-party schism that’s still fracturing the overall messaging?
RB: Well, it seems like that is taking place on social media. When I meet somebody in real life it’s a commitment to take back what we didn’t win, and I’m calling on Bernie people and Hillary people as well as people who voted for Trump to take back the 1st District in Wisconsin. I see where we need to go from here if we want to be successful. It’s like driving a car, where you keep your eye on the road in front of you and every once in a while look in the rearview mirror. But we’re going to crash into something if we stay focused on that rearview mirror.
SK: Do you think these kind of newer purity tests now in the party are ensuring part of the healing process, or is the party going through a Tea Party-like transformation, where we’re going to lose for a while and then eventually nominate someone like Trump? Don’t big tents allow for different views and principles? Isn’t that what makes Democrats a big tent party? Isn’t it what has been proven to win elections in the past?
RB: I’m for being more inclusive. We need to be if we’re going to increase numbers. I’m not a big fan of purity tests but I think that every district needs to look at what the people in that district want, and it shouldn’t be like somebody living in North Carolina determining what a purity test should be for somebody in Iowa. I think what we really need to do, if we want to start winning things, is look at things that unite us, not try to define things that we disagree on.
SK: You’ve already racked up big endorsements. VoteVets, Democracy For America, NARAL, some celebrities have endorsed you. Shareblue, JoyAnn Reid, and Neera Tanden have been supportive. What does it say to you about how enthusiastically the liberal elite are already coalescing around your candidacy?
RB: We’re going to get support from wherever we can. It’s great. It’s very encouraging. It creates a lot of energy for the campaign, but it’s everyday people who give me the energy. A lady wrote from, I want to say it was Iowa, she sent a perfectly handwritten letter stating that she was 85 years old, she saw the video, it meant a lot to her, “Get that son of gun Paul Ryan out of there because he wants to take my healthcare away”… and there was a five dollar bill inside that letter. That charged me up more than anything else. It’s great to get these national groups to get behind us. That’s what we’re working on. It’s about building up a really strong coalition early, and we need to get that momentum in order to get Paul Ryan out. We’re not going to be able to out-spend him. We’re not going to be able to out-raise him and we’re not going to be able to try that, but we’re going to have enough to get our message out, and the more people we can get behind us shows this is very doable.
SK: You still have a primary to win. What does it mean when a candidate such as yourself is immediately backed by the Democratic establishment? Is it you influencing the establishment or is it just the establishment kind of jumping at the chance for someone like you?
RB: Congressman Mark Pocan said that he’s never seen a better campaign launch, period. I have members of Congress contacting me, thanking me for running against Paul Ryan. It means a lot. There’re elements of both. I’m actively asking people for help, but there are people contacting me saying “You’re exactly what we need. If we could create a candidate who would be kryptonite for Paul Ryan it would be everything you have.” I’m a veteran. I’m a cancer survivor. A single dad and a union blue-collar worker who’s lived in this state my entire life. Even other congressional candidates are like “This is the answer,” and I read stuff about what kind of candidate we need and things that haven’t worked in the past as far as getting a lawyer, or that we have too many lawyers in Congress. It’s great seeing all the people get behind us. Within 24 hours of our launch we had $100,000 and now we’re up over $750,000. It’s a lot of people who see what we have going on. It’s like “You are what we need. If we could draw it up, it would be you.”
[photos: The Win Company]