(Author’s note: In looking to cover House primaries involving moderate Republican incumbents — particularly those enjoying the approval of current GOP House leadership — now receiving a strong challenge from the right, I was introduced to the candidacy of Frank Roche in North Carolina’s Second District.
It’s a fascinating race. In the past month, Roche’s campaign to unseat Rep. Renee Ellmers has evolved into a case study of Tea Party/conservative gripes with national GOP leadership, a representative example of the current party rift. Each recent development received national attention; some of the developments were broken here.
Please do look back and examine the recent campaign coverage. The key theme I hope you take away from it — and be sure to apply this lens as you absorb similar news regarding national GOP leadership: A curious voter will soon know exactly what policies Roche supports, and how he intends to govern. Objectively, the same cannot be said of Ellmers.
Just this morning, Ellmers — who two weeks ago claimed she had the same immigration stance of Tea Party stalwarts Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and of libertarian Rand Paul — published a half-page op-ed in the left-leaning Sanford Herald, a local paper generally supportive of Democrats.
Her topic? Supporting “public-private partnerships.”)
Steinberg: With Renee Ellmers’ recent appearance with Laura Ingraham, her speech to the Moore County GOP convention, where she claimed to have the same immgration stance as Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul, this video that just surfaced of her berating constituents who actually do hold views similar to Cruz, Lee, and Paul — your primary has become a referendum about immigration policy and the GOP.
Your immigration stance — do you align your policy with those three?
Roche: I think I am probably a little more aggressive in my stance than the three senators, and certainly more so than Representative Ellmers.
I’m looking for something quite different than what we’ve experienced over the last four decades. And I’m not only talking about illegal immigration. We of course have to stop this once and for all by properly securing our borders, getting a handle on our short-term visa program, and, of course, dealing with those who are here illegally — which would not include amnesty, or anything like amnesty, or “path to citizenship,” or any other semantic twist of phrase they want to use.
But where I really want to put emphasis is the legal side of immigration. That’s where we need to make dramatic changes.
We need to sharply reduce our yearly legal immigration. We need to move away from family reunification as a basis for our immigration system, and to go back to a national origins-based system, one based on the economic interests of the United States.
Lastly, the other key metric here is that we must move away from official recognition of multiculturalism, identity politics, and political correctness. These social counterparts to our immigration numbers are what makes immigration so damaging to the United States, so divisive.
We can start by simply applying our current laws. We have strong laws on the books. It’s really not that difficult to come up with effective immigration policy, but it takes the courage to change what’s been in place for 45 years.
Steinberg: Your district, NC-02 — what are the chief industries in your district, and has immigration policy factored into any challenges facing your district’s economy now? And those challenges, do you tie them to Ellmers tenure?
Roche: The challenges facing the Second District are not that different from the challenges facing America, generally speaking, with respect to immigration. The Second District, we have agriculture, we have housing, we have high-tech, and in all those sectors we know that immigration is playing a large role. In my hometown area, it’s becoming known as “little India” as a result of the use of H1-B visa programs to bring in IT workers from India, and also Asia. In housing and agriculture, we see more of the Hispanic worker. In this area, it’s not just the low-skill workers, it’s the high-skill level as well. It’s not just Hispanics, its Asians and Russians and Europeans. Simply, immigration policy in general is impacting the ability of citizens in the Second District to gain employment.
It’s also impacting the ability of these industries to see growth in wages. We know now, the evidence is clear that one of the key damaging aspects to immigration policy in regards to economics is the cap on wages. Real wage growth and real hourly earnings are being impacted by immigration policy.
Steinberg: Would you tie any specific votes by Ellmers to the current state of your district?
Roche: Rep. Ellmers has already taken several votes that have allowed a greater number of immigrants to enter the country. Her record is available on my site, FrankRocheforCongress.com. The truth of that is evident.
She continues to vote for other issues that are also causing problems with respect to immigration — there, we have to talk about debt and deficits. It’s directly tied in, a bit more complex of a discussion, perhaps not ideal for this general conversation. Yet generally speaking, she seems to have a focus on business and industry rather than her voters as constituents.
And of course, that seems to relate for her desire for reelections, and the power of donations, particularly large donations from PACs.
Steinberg: Your background — you just mentioned the complexity of the debt and deficit policy in regards to immigration — you’re coming from two decades in international banking, you taught at Elon University … I think what’s occurred in your primary race so far, with Ellmers’ recent missteps, is that in terms of a known quantity right now, you are simply “not Renee Ellmers.”
Can you give us a better primer than that on your private sector experience?
Roche: Sure, thank you for noticing my background. That’s a key difference between myself and Renee — my knowledge and experience. That’s a reason Renee is having such a hard time with this immigration issue, she simply doesn’t understand the issue well enough to really comment on it. That’s causing her a lot of difficulty.
My background academically is economics, and beyond that it is international banking.
What I was allowed to do in my career was apply my economic training at work every single day. In the international banking world, especially in capital markets and trading, you must be aware of all things going on around you. Economically, geopolitically, anything coming out of Congress or state houses. Then you have to be aware of everything happening internationally. Other nations, large economies, what they’re doing, how their economies are performing. You have to understand the coalitions amongst them.
Through the private sector experience I became expert on these issues, on real market economics, how the real world economy works. This is my advantage when it comes to public policy — identifying mistakes from the past, and being able to identify the solutions to correct those mistakes.
Steinberg: Ellmers has drawn herself close to John Boehner and GOP leadership on immigration. By challenging her, you can’t avoid being confrontational with party leadership.
Are you comfortable saying your campaign is also about guiding GOP leadership in a different direction? Are you of a mindset of Rep. Louie Gohmert, who has established a PAC for the sole purpose of helping conservative candidates whom the party hasn’t been helping?
Are you trying to make a statement about the party in addition to one about Ellmers’ tenure?
Roche: I am trying to make a statement about what’s right for America — and that involves bringing the GOP back to the right.
I often talk about the political spectrum as a circle, and six o’clock as where the GOP was politically centered in the 1970s and early 1980s. I see that line as having shifted sharply towards the left, towards nine o’clock, as Democrats have brought Republicans with them.
I think the GOP has to come back to the right based on conservative principles, based on limited government, because it’s clear now that the Republicans are just as much at fault for the challenges Americans face with regards to jobs, the economy, and unemployment as Democrats are.
Yes, this is a fight in the party. And my fight is to bring the party back to the right.
Steinberg: Part of the confrontation now within the party is among people who don’t believe conservatism is viable nationally, who believe moderation is acceptable as strategy. Do you believe consistent conservatism is the best strategy, or do you consider “pulling your punches” a reasonable way to lead?
Roche: David, I am an unabashed conservative.
I believe moderate Republicanism is where $18T in debt lives. $1.3T in annual trade deficit lives. A decaying economy, a labor participation rate at its lowest since the 1970s. I believe moderate Republicans and Democrats are the cause of America’s problems, the cause of the bad policy we’ve had over the past 45 years.
So I deliberately and unabashedly will continue to talk as a true conservative focused on the correct principles to guide America to greater strength and prosperity.
I’m not interested in battling with moderates. They’re wrong. We want to convince them to come back to the right.
Steinberg: What I was looking to address indirectly there — Ellmers won her seat in the 2010 election pitching herself as a Tea Party conservative. I’m looking to see if you can give voters a means to differentiate your behavior now from hers prior to her getting elected.
Roche: Sure, that’s a fair line of questioning. I get that quite a bit. Unfortunately, I can’t prove the end result until I get a chance to demonstrate that. You’re right, Renee talked the talk of a Tea Party conservative in 2010, and even in 2012. Of course, you have to look back — the district was never expected to be won by Renee. She was thought of as a placeholder, not really the perfect candidate, or the perfectly qualified candidate. So she talked the way she needed to talk.
I will talk the way I have been, as a conservative, and I will govern in Washington, D.C. as the same. Now there’s a whole bunch of skepticism around that conversation, because we’ve seen repeatedly over the years, people do this. Renee is just the most recent example.
So I encourage people to pay close attention, and kick my butt out of there if I do the same thing.
But no, my background, my experience, my rhetoric, the way I write, or talk in my videos, there is a clear distinction between my rhetoric and Renee’s, and the distinction is that my positions reflect my knowledge and my experience.
Steinberg: Thanks for your time Frank, I look forward to following the rest of your campaign.
Roche: Thanks. Great to speak with you.