“We’re a whole year ahead of where we were in 2016,” Brian Carroll, a retired teacher and candidate for next president of the United States, tells me. Carroll is not, as you might worry, another of this election cycle’s endless supply of Democratic nominees you’ve never heard of. He has already won his nomination contest. The Californian is running on behalf of the American Solidarity Party, which these days seems a whole year ahead of the Democratic national committee, too.
Back in 2016, the American Solidarity Party (ASP) had only just incorporated and was, into that August and September, still figuring out its slate of potential electors for Colorado, the one state where its then candidate, Mike Maturen, was on the ballot, and the 25 others where write-in votes (when a candidate’s name does not appear on the voting slip) would count. Maturen was a late addition to the “top of ticket”; an original presidential candidate had dropped out due to fear of losing his employment. ASP received 6,776 votes.
This year, with a year to go, ASP has a 2020 ticket, a 2020 platform and volunteers laying the groundwork for Carroll and his vice president Amar Patel – a Catholic and the party’s national committee chairman – to appear on as many ballots as possible, with a write-in option wherever they do not.
ASP’s leadership sees the party as drawing from three pools. There are voters interested in GK Chesterton-style distributism as an alternative to global capitalism. There are also would-be Christian Democrats of the continental or Latin American style, who want to use big government for the common good. Finally there are those hoping to vote in accordance with their conscience for a consistent life ethic, often inspired by Catholic social teaching or Mennonite theology.
The party has some 600 dues-paying, voting members, representing most of the states. More than 3,000 people receive its newsletters and updates. Some 20 states have chapters, leadership coordinating events and local political activity. That modest apparatus is now being turned to Federal Election Commission compliance, signature-getting and fundraising – in short, campaigning.
“I am very pleased with the team we have,” Carroll says, describing how he spends the days until he hits the campaign trail playing with Internal Revenue Service forms to set himself up legally. Vice-presidential candidate Patel says the mindset is “hunker down for several weeks and get our ducks in a row”.
When we talk on the phone Carroll is resting up after a minor medical procedure the day before. At 69, he is old enough to have been married 46 years, have five children and 14 grandchildren, but still be younger than the 2020 frontrunners – Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, even Elizabeth Warren. He only recently retired, specifically to focus on his ASP campaign full time.
Skylar Covich, ASP’s director of outreach and another Catholic, says it “could be a realistic goal” to finish third among third-party candidates, after the Libertarian and Green parties. In our conversation, though, Carroll is quick to make clear that, while he is realistic, he is still taking the presidency seriously.
“If I was elected president, obviously our party is not big enough to supply everyone I would need to fill a cabinet,” he says, going on to describe the kind of coalition he might use to staff an administration, putting people where they agree with ASP, such as a pro-choice Democrat at the Department of Commerce.
With ASP, as with most of American politics, it tends to come back to abortion at some point.
Many a pro-life American has cast her ballot as the Republican Party’s faithful servant, muttering “but God’s first”, in the hope that “but the judges” is indeed a justifiable calculation. Indeed, while a large number of ASP members would identify as pro-life Democrats pushed out of their old party, its presidential ticket is a mix of one part “Never Trump” Republican and one part ex-Republican. Carroll and Patel both say they were never comfortable with much of what the GOP has stood for in the last few decades – coziness with capital, hawkishness abroad, slashing social services – but still voted for it out of a sense of duty to unborn life. That is, until Trump’s candidacy felt like more compromise than they could stand.
“That’s when I broke, I said I can’t do this any more,” Carroll says of Trump’s appeals to Evangelicals. While he liked Sanders, once it became clear the match-up would be Trump versus Clinton, he told himself: “This election is a loss. Nothing good can come out of it. It’s time to look for the next one.”
That’s when he discovered ASP, and helped start the party’s California chapter. He ran for Congress as an ASP candidate against Devin Nunes, and finished fifth in California’s “jungle primary” system, ahead of the Libertarian.
Patel’s story is similar, ending with what he describes as a road to Emmaus moment – his heart burning with recognition that the ASP project was a politics he could believe in.
It is that kind of enthusiasm for philosophical distinctiveness that sets ASP apart from its Never Trump rivals, such as the Evan McMullin campaign in 2016, which may well have prevented Maturen from getting more attention.
“2016 really opened my eyes, shook me from my core stances, my comfort zone,” Patel says. “I was very pro-life from college on and the tribalism of pro-life people kind of dragged me into the Republican Party.”
Now, as party chairman, Patel has played a crucial role in making sure “the ASP is really miles from both parties and in its own unique space”, and not just a smaller pro-life Democratic Party. In debates over platforms the last couple years a more traditional, socially conservative wing of ASP, focused on family health and large-scale economic reform, has won out against an activist wing prioritising LGBT identity politics and willing to defend a social market welfare state still reliant on global capitalism.
Covich says this cycle’s platform can be described as “a little bit more hard edged” than those in past years, where a desire for centrism and the biggest small tent possible meant avoiding controversial issues such as traditional marriage and children gender-transitioning, or big targets like the tech industry. “It really makes clear that there are a lot of huge problems in the world,” he says. “We’re struggling to maintain a human-centered, common-good politics.”
While confident that most ‘pro-life Americans will like what they see in ASP, Carroll and his team refuse to apologise for staking out strong positions, personally or as a party.
“If I was the kind of politician that was doing focus groups and designing my programme around what I came up with, I would be a Republican or a Democrat,” Carroll says. “As a third-party person, I have the freedom to think things through myself, and then present my conclusions.”
Micah Meadowcroft is a writer and editor studying in Chicago. His work focuses on the intersection of religion, politics, and culture, and he has written for such publications as the New Atlantis, the Washington Free Beacon and Providence. For more of his writing and too many of his thoughts, consider following him on Twitter, @Micaheadowcroft