Can this mustachioed iron worker pants Paul Ryan?
Meet Randy Bryce
When Randy Bryce called me, I was sitting on my mother-in-law's porch having a cigarette and a Coors Light for lunch.
I guess you could say I was trying to get in the right head space for talking to the iron worker in Racine, Wisconsin, whose announcement last week that he is running as a Democrat for House Speaker Paul Ryan's seat in Congress was roughly the political communications equivalent of an atomic wedgie.
"Let's trade places," Bryce said, addressing Ryan directly in the video. "You can come work the iron, and I'll go to D.C."
When I picked up the phone, I was surprised at first that it was Bryce himself and not some frantic scheduler pestering me with instructions about what I would be allowed to ask "Mr. Bryce" — actually, his spokesman insists on calling him "Randy" — about and reminding me how limited our time was going to be. I also couldn't believe that the call came exactly when it was scheduled, at 1:00 p.m. almost to the second.
I probably shouldn't have been surprised. Unlike journalists and speakers of the House, iron workers can't afford to show up late. Randy, who tweets under the @ironstache handle, has been described as "genetically engineered from Bruce Springsteen songs." And it is hard not to cast the 2018 race for Wisconsin's 1st congressional district as a contest of clashing personalities. Ryan is a physical fitness enthusiast, a former prom king, College Republican, and Model U.N. participant, an arch-wonk known for his hatred of smoking. Randy is a veteran who helped build Miller Park in Milwaukee, the home of America's most lovable baseball team. He is somewhat vague about policy, but he is known to make "amazing slow-cooked chicken."
I spoke with the proud single dad, cancer survivor, and owner of what at the moment is probably the most famous mustache in America about the response to his first campaign video, his opposition to NAFTA, and what he thought was good about Trump's campaign promises. Here's a lightly edited transcript.
Have you been surprised by the response to your campaign announcement? For someone who has never held office before, you certainly reached a lot of people.
Oh yeah. I mean, I was confident it was gonna be a good kick-off, but I was surprised at how big it did blow up. Oh yeah. We brought in $100,000 within the first 24 hours.
Why do you think you are better suited to representing the people of Wisconsin's 1st district than Paul Ryan?
Because our district is made up of more people who work for a living than Paul Ryan, who has been a career politician acting against working people and their values. If you look at where Paul Ryan has been over the last 600 days, he hasn't held one public town-hall meeting, yet he's been out getting $10,000 for people to have their pictures taken with him. We don't have enough money to keep him around. His interests are not us. His interests are the people who give him a lot of money to keep him in power.
One of the things you touched on in your announcement video was health care. Do you think Democrats should be working to save the Affordable Care Act or would it be better to have a single-payer system?
Yes, but what I say is that if you have somebody that's freezing and only has a sheet to keep 'em warm, don't rip away that sheet until they get a blanket.
You have been active in the fight against right-to-work legislation in Wisconsin. What lessons have you learned that you think will be valuable in Washington? Do you think right-to-work is something the GOP will try to push for nationally?
I pretty much expect them to try it. But one thing I've learned is you have to listen to people and make sure they are heard. Because everyone who has a job, whether it's on a construction site, in an office, in a classroom — they all have different issues that are important to them and ideas about how to make their working conditions better. People just want to be listened to. And I think the way that our launch took off shows that. People just want to be heard, they want people who care about us, that understand us, that live next door to us, in our neighborhood.
What do you make of Donald Trump's unexpected victory in Wisconsin? Do you think he did a better job of speaking to working people than your party did?
Some of the guys I work with said, "Well, look, Donald Trump said he's gonna do this." And I think parts of what he claimed he would do once he got elected sounded good. But he hasn't done 'em. It was dishonest, what he said he was gonna do as opposed to what he has actually done. I could say I'm gonna give everybody a golden bathtub full of M&Ms, but that's not gonna happen. The message was good, but the follow-through was a lie.
What parts of Trump's campaign agenda did you like?
Well, there was talk about him saving jobs in Wisconsin. And now an entire factory — GE, some of the best dang jobs in Waukesha County — is going to Canada. And Trump promised that he would use American-made steel for this pipeline. And that's not happening.
What is one step that you think we could take to shore up good-paying jobs in America?
I think there needs to be a demand that we buy American products. When we buy goods made in the United States, we ensure that our people are working. I think it's an easy thing to ask for.
Do you think we need to renegotiate our involvement in NAFTA — or pull out of it?
I am completely opposed to NAFTA.
Do you think there is room for people who are pro-life in today's Democratic Party? There are certainly a lot of working people opposed to abortion.
A woman should have the right to choose what she does with her body. I think everybody is entitled to their own opinion. My personal opinion as a man is that it's not my place to tell a woman what she does with her own body.
Is religious faith something that is important to you?
For my first 18 years I went to a Roman Catholic Church. My mom demanded I go every Sunday. Faith is important to me, but it's not a primary issue I'm running on. I respect everybody's right to practice the faith of their choosing.
Are you hopeful about your campaign going forward?
The way our launch took off shows that there is a real desire, not just in the 1st district but around the country, for working people to have their voices heard. I'm hoping that me stepping up in this race will encourage other people around the country to do the same, because who better to represent us than ourselves?