He won’t win. So why is Brian Carroll running for president?
.- Gazing at the Chicago skyline from his upper-floor hotel room, Brian Carroll is excited to be visiting the Windy City.
“I figured while the sun is shining, I might as well get out and see something,” the 70-year-old Californian told CNA, with the enthusiasm of a seasoned traveler eager to explore.
This is Brian Carroll’s first trip to Chicago, he said, other than changing planes at O’Hare. But he’s not here for tourism.
Carroll has the clear diction and the good nature of a teacher, which should come as no surprise— Carroll spent his 43-year career teaching in one capacity or another, before retiring last year.
Now, he’s running to become President of the United States.
Carroll, an evangelical Christian, is the presidential nominee of the American Solidarity Party, a small-but-growing political party based largely on Catholic social teaching.
Carroll has come to Chicago to meet, for the very first time, his running mate, Amar Patel— a high school teacher from the city’s suburbs.
He’ll also take part in a March 4 debate for third-party presidential candidates.
“There’s no way I can look ahead and see what God is doing. I feel very strongly that God told me to run, but he didn’t tell me what was going to happen,” Carroll told CNA.
Birth of a party
Though the American Solidarity Party is not explicitly religious, its platform rests on the principles of Catholic social teaching: solidarity, subsidiarity, and distributism.
The party began in 2011 as the Christian Democracy Party USA, and Mike Maturen, a Catholic, ran for president on the party ticket in the 2016 election.
Abortion is a key issue for members of the ASP. The party platform calls for an end to legal protection for abortion, and it supports social services for mothers in need. But the party says that pro-life convictions must also include opposition to euthanasia, assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research and the death penalty.
The party’s beliefs on the definition of marriage and religious liberty could be considered conservative, while its views on the environment, health care and immigration could be considered liberal.
Distributism, the favored economic theory for the party platform, is a model championed by notable Catholics such as G.K. Chesterton and Hillair Belloc.
The party describes distributism as “an economic system which focuses on creating a society of wide-spread ownership…rather than having the effect of degrading the human person as a cog in the machine.”
“The core of distributism is to bring the economic engine closer to home,” then-presidential candidate Mike Maturen explained to CNA in 2016.
“Rather than having a huge portion of our economy wrapped up in the hands and control of a few major corporations, we believe that it is the small business – the mom and pop shops – that drive the economy best. We would propose to rewrite regulations to favor the small businesses and family farms, rather than the major corporations that also just so happen to be the major donors to our government officials. Regulations, taxes, etc all need to be re-thought and revamped.”
Carroll had never heard the word “distributism” until he joined the ASP, but as soon as he read the description, it clicked for him.
“It shares with scripture the importance of watching out for our brothers, and not letting any class of people become exploitative of others,” Carroll explained.
Amar Patel, the ASP’s 2020 vice presidential candidate, is also chair of the party. Patel said the ASP is working to break the narrative that if you’re pro-life, you have to be a Republican, and if you want to love for the poor, you have to be a Democrat.
Patel became involved in the pro-life movement after converting to Catholicism in 1993. His opposition to abortion was— and still is— a guiding principle for his politics, and for years, he said he would vote for whichever candidate he considered pro-life, which would almost invariably be the Republican candidate.
Over time, as Patel grew in faith, and became involved with the Knights of Columbus, he says he started to become disillusioned with Republican policies and attitudes.
For example, he says, the United States was constantly at war during the George W. Bush years, and looking at the Catholic Church’s just war theory, the wars in the Middle East, waged primarily in retaliation for the September 11th attacks, did not seem to Patel to be just.
Through a Facebook page called Catholic Geeks, and through conversations with fellow Catholics, Patel started to realize that he loved plumbing the depths of Catholic social teaching.
“One of the rules of the group was that everything you posted had to be from the Catechism, or encyclicals, or the Church Fathers, and just reading some of the things that people found about the richness of our faith, it made me [think]: neither party is addressing this,” Patel told CNA.
“Neither one comes close. They both just touch tips of icebergs…but the totality of the faith I felt was missing. And I felt like that should be an integral part of my life in the public square.”
“The long game for Christians in the public square is a big loss if more people don’t get out there and proclaim the Gospel message,” he said.
For presidential hopeful Carroll, getting out of his native California and exploring new places is nothing new. He’s lived abroad for more than a decade, altogether, most of that time spent in Colombia.
Carroll grew up in Los Angeles, and moved to California’s Central Valley in the late 1970s. His family was very active in the Methodist Church during his formative years.
His family’s commitment to education made an impression on Carroll. His aunt was the international president of Laubach Literacy, a program that began in the 1930s to address adult illiteracy. Carroll’s brother got involved in teaching English to immigrants.
Carroll’s family also left him with a sense of the struggles migrants and refugees face. For a time during his childhood, his parents used their spare bedroom to sponsor two Vietnamese refugees from Saigon.
“From a very young age we were involved in refugee resettlement, meeting the needs of immigrants, both to learn English and other training, so that was my upbringing,” he told CNA.
He remembers that the Gospel has long had a hold on his mind, and his imagation. When he was 10 or 12, a preacher mentioned a quote from the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Protestant pastor.
“If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Carroll recalls hearing.
“And I thought: ‘Boy, if that’s the question, that would be a horrible thing to live your life as a Christian without leaving enough evidence to be convicted for it,’”
At a certain point, Carroll says, he became disillusioned with the “social gospel,” that some members of his church seemed to hold.
“We were doing lots of good things, but it just seemed to me like they were treating the Bible as a convenient mythology to hold the social organizations together,” Carroll mused.
He said he failed to gain a sense that, in his church, there was a “sufficient belief that the Bible was true.”
“And I thought: I don’t really want to base my life on a mythology. I want something that’s firm and secure.”
He said he spent some time looking for truth in other faiths. He says he read the Koran, as well as Buddhist and Taoist literature. None spoke to him.
One thing he did learn with time, though— don’t judge a religion by the way people are living it.
“Judge a religion by what the original founder said,” he concluded.
Carroll resolved to try living by the words of Christ, and to lead his family that way.
As early as 1980, Carroll and his wife became concerned that, despite some legislative efforts to the contrary, federal money was funding abortions. They wanted no part of that. So, they decided to reduce their income— by drastically increasing their tithing— to the point where they weren’t paying any income tax. At one point, they were donating as much as 30% of their income to Christian causes.
“Then God said: I don’t want your money, I want you,” Carroll recalled.
Carroll and his family got involved with Wycliffe Bible Translators, a nondenominational mission that translates the bible into indigenous languages. He and his wife went to Colombia to teach, staying for 5 years, returned to the US for two years, then went back for another four.
Wycliffe had to leave Colombia in 1995 because of the country’s civil war. At that point, the Carrolls returned to California.
Trying to decide what was next, Carroll earned a Master’s degree in fine arts and creative writing, worked at a Pentecostal school for a while, and eventually settled into another teaching job, where he taught for 11 years before retiring.
At that same time, Carroll was involved in building a new congregation in the Evangelical Free Church. That community split four years ago, over doctrinal and leadership issues, Carroll says.
A group of 30 people, including Carroll, organized a house church. With little overhead, they mainly fund and support missionaries.
A new political home
Though Carroll had voted Republican ever since 1980, primarily because of his pro-life convictions, he told CNA he eventually began to feel that the Republican party was just “leading us on”— that the candidates needed votes to pass their economic agendas, but “could not afford to give us what we really wanted.”
He says the first crack from him came in the George W. Bush era, when Republicans had control of the House and Senate. Bush was asked in 1999 if he would push for a federal personhood amendment to outlaw abortion, and the president said no. Carroll says that shook him.
Then, in 2010, California Republicans ran a pro-choice candidate, Meg Whitman, for governor.
When Donald Trump burst on the scene as a presidential candidate, Carroll says it seemed that Trump “had a habit of sucking in everyone around him and corrupting them.”
“And I don’t want to see the pro-life movement sucked into that,” Carroll said.
“I don’t want it to be Trump’s pro-life movement; I want it to be Christ’s pro-life movement.”
Like Carroll, Patel cited the rise of Donald Trump as a tipping point, which caused him to question his party allegiances.
In 2016, Carroll resigned from his church and changed his voted registration at the same time, briefly joining the Democratic party. He liked Bernie Sanders’ idea of “getting money out of politics,” so he supported him while searching for a third party.
It only took a few weeks to find the American Solidarity Party.
Caroll helped to organize the solidarity party in California, and in 2018 decided to run for Congress against Devin Nunes, a Republican who has held his seat since 2003.
He did not have much time or money to devote to the campaign, as he was still teaching full-time. Still, he garnered 1.3% of the vote— more than the Libertarian candidate in the race.
After his run for office, Carroll realized that he had gained more campaign experience than nearly anyone else in the American Solidarity Party, and that the party would likely ask him to run for president.
“I saw that coming, and had a year to pray about it,” Carroll said.
Every time he came up with a reason not to run, God seemed to provide an answer, usually through preaching that Carroll heard on the radio.
“Lord, you didn’t bring me out into the desert for me to die here,” Carroll remembers telling himself.
Faith and politics
The reasons Carroll joined the American Solidarity Party are not immediately obvious to his fellow evangelical Christians, he told CNA.
He says many of his fellow elders in the church he left behind “probably thought I was a heretic.”
For example, everybody else on the elder board felt that capital punishment was what the Bible demanded, but Carroll started to doubt that. After reading up on the subject, when capital punishment came up on the ballot in California, he decided to vote against it.
He says he has Christian friends on both the left and the right who tell him, often, why his positions are wrong.
But, he says joining the party has given him a chance to get to know many more Catholics than he had ever encountered in his life.
Recent polling conducted by EWTN News and RealClear Opinion suggests that some 52% of US Catholics are open to voting for a third party.
Some of those Catholics have made their way to the American Solidarity Party.
“99% of my Catholic friends are members of the party,” he said.
Carroll estimates that at least 80% of members of the party are Catholic, with some Orthodox Christians as well.
“It has very much changed the flavor of my Facebook friends list,” he chuckled.
Paths to victory
Neither Carroll nor Patel is sanguine about their chances of actually winning the presidency.
Though the ASP hopes to get on the ballot in Colorado, in many states ASP members are working hard just to earn the chance to be counted as write-in candidates.
In some states, such as Oregon, even achieving write-in status has been an uphill battle.
The ASP is “in the process of building a party,” Carroll explained.
He said California, New York, Ohio and Texas are increasing in activity in the party— though turnout remains small compared to major parties.
“If we get 5 people to a meeting, that’s a major rally,” he admitted, and the ASP is “not yet to the point where we’re going to be satirized in the Onion or the Babylon Bee.”
Still, the party has gained at least one high-profile member in the past few months: Charles Camosy, a leading pro-life Democrat, announcing in early February his departure from the Democratic Party in favor of the ASP.
“Who knows what’s coming this year,” Carroll said.
Both men said their presidential run is about raising the party’s national profile and getting people talking about the issues that are important to the ASP.
Even if they don’t win offices, Carroll said, their party can affect policy by influencing the national conversation or drawing attention to specific issues.
Carroll pointed to Ross Perot, who ran for president as an independent in the 1990s, while pushing for a balanced federal budget. Though Perot did not come close to winning, the major parties discussed a balanced budget for years after that, Carroll contended.
In Carroll’s mind, if enough pro-life Democrats switch to the ASP, then the Democratic Party may consider softening its position on abortion.
Also, he said, if enough Republicans who “don’t like to see kids in cages at the border,” or who support a more universalized healthcare system, switch to ASP, the Republican Party might also begin to rethink their positions.
“My personal goal is for everyone, whether they love us, they hate us, or are completely indifferent and think we’re a joke, at least will have heard of us by November 3, and that the people who want to vote their conscience have at least that opportunity,” Patel said.
He said he suspects that many Christians and Catholics end up voting for a candidate who they believe will defend one specific aspect of Christian morality, rather than looking for “ideal candidates who will actually defend the Christian message in total.”
“They can actually put in ‘Brian Carroll’ if they want a write-in vote that is significant, is meaningful, and counts specifically FOR something, as opposed to against something, which I think a lot of people are ending up doing.”
Patel said he hears a lot about “wasted votes” when it comes to third parties. But in states where a Republican or Democratic victory is all but assured, such as California, even if millions of voters switched to a third party, it would be unlikely to change the outcome, he said.
If that happened, however, the “entire face of American politics would have changed,” because people would be talking about the third-party candidate who garnered millions of votes.
“If you’re strongly pro-life and you vote for Trump in a state he’s going to lose, THAT’S a throwaway vote, because not everyone who votes for Trump is pro-life,” Patel argued.
“But if you change your pro-life vote to Brian Carroll, that will be a specifically pro-life vote that will be counted as such,” he added.