An Interview With GOP Presidential Candidate Esteban Oliverez


On July 9th, Austin businessman Esteban Oliverez filed a Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. At about the same time, the candidate launched a campaign website.

On July 22nd, Mr. Oliverez set up what is believed to be the nation's first ever presidential-candidate "AMA" ("Ask Me Anything") Reddit session. Entitled "I Am a No-Name Candidate for President, Ask Me Anything!", the thread was widely read and spurred hundreds of average citizens to ask earnest and candid questions to an obscure but well-spoken presidential candidate.

Perhaps because of his AMA on Reddit, Oliverez's announcement video on YouTube -- posted just a few days earlier, on July 17th -- in short order became the second most popular campaign announcement video of the 2016 presidential election cycle.

This last claim bears repeating and, moreover, substantiating, so below is a tally of the most popular presidential campaign announcement videos of 2016:

Most Watched Presidential Campaign Announcement Videos (Full Clips)

(by total YouTube views, as of 8/18/15)

1. Donald Trump (R): 1,687,789
2. Esteban Oliverez (R): 1,430,437
3. Hillary Clinton (D): 598,741
4. Ted Cruz (R): 268,864
5. Marco Rubio (R): 190,014
6. Ben Carson (R): 165,255
7. Rand Paul (R): 154,699
8. Carly Fiorina (R): 123,980
9. Bernie Sanders (D): 85,472
10. Jeb Bush (R): 84,685
11. Jim Webb (D): 62,282
12. Lawrence Lessig (D): 48,053
13. Rick Perry (R): 37,358
14. Chris Christie (R): 36,416
15. Scott Walker (R): 32,581
16. Bobby Jindal (R): 31,275
17. Mike Huckabee (R): 24,685
18. John Kasich: (R) 13,734
19. Lindsey Graham (R): 11,697
20. Rick Santorum (R): 7.838
21. Jim Gilmore (R): 5,327
22. George Pataki (R): 5,170
23. Lincoln Chaffee (D): 4,570

Incredibly, despite a formal announcement of his candidacy, a full-service campaign website, and a level of popularity on YouTube rivaled only by Donald Trump, Oliverez has never seen his long-shot campaign covered by even a single media outlet -- that is, other than this one. On July 24th, I wrote a column on Oliverez and published it in The Huffington Post.

(I should note that, on August 13th, the Austin American-Statesman did mention Oliverez in a story tallying the total number of presidential candidates from Texas. The newspaper briefly noted the candidate's impressive reception on YouTube and linked to his campaign announcement video.)

While nearly 600 Americans have registered a 2016 presidential campaign with the FEC, most are not affiliated with a party, very few have a campaign website, and none but Donald Trump and Esteban Oliverez have seen their campaign go viral on YouTube. While the nation's Old Media is trained to look for certain indicators of seriousness in a presidential campaign that are, by now, grossly outdated -- for instance, political neophyte and self-professed single-issue protest candidate Lawrence Lessig, a Democrat and Harvard Law professor, somehow warranted the U.S. News & World Report headline "Could Lawrence Lessig Be a Campaign Game-Changer?" just hours after he announced his candidacy -- New Media owes it to its readers to note when an unlikely political story has suddenly gone viral.

With this in mind, I thought that the 1.43 million people (and counting) who have viewed Esteban Oliverez's presidential campaign announcement deserved a little more information about the candidate, so on August 18th I interviewed Mr. Oliverez via email. That interview -- the candidate's first in a national media outlet -- is below.

Seth Abramson: To be a serious contender for the presidency, one must be willing and able to travel to early primary and caucus states. What sort of campaign schedule have you developed for the coming months?

Esteban Oliverez: As a newcomer, it's going to be extremely important to get exposure in the early primary states. In 2012 we saw early wins energize the campaigns of lesser-known candidates. New Hampshire in particular will likely be a make-or-break state, and I plan on spending a lot of time there in the next few months.

There's a fine line between political strategy and getting your ideas in front of the American people. I think the second one is far more important. While I'm in the race to win, what's most important to me is that we change the political dialogue in this country.

I'm a Republican, but some of my strongest supporters are staunch liberals. I believe that's because I've been able to show that once you get past the labels, there's a lot that people on the Left and the Right actually agree on. If we put aside the partisanship we could make changes that would get America working again.

SA: Many media outlets, including The Huffington Post, have written at length about the skyrocketing cost of a presidential campaign. How do you plan to fund your bid for the presidency? Can you describe your fund-raising operation and any recent successes in that area?

EO: America spends way too much on presidential campaigns. The last cycle we spent $7 billion between the presidential and congressional races, and I imagine we'll spend even more this time around. There are much better things we could be doing with that money.

Much of that is third party spending: super-PACs, special interest and lobbying dollars. I don't have special interest dollars supporting me and I don't want them.

The issue with all this money isn't so much that it's buying votes as it is influencing our choices.

There's no super-PAC devoted to finding a common-sense middle ground. There's no special interest money in finding a compromise that satisfies an overwhelming majority of voters and gets the country moving again. So we end up with politicians taking hard left or hard right stances and running to be president of only one side of the country. No matter who wins, half the country loses.

It's why Congress is so dysfunctional. A hardline Republican can win with 51% of the vote in his district, and the next district over a hardline Democrat can win with 51% of the vote. Their constituencies could be almost identical, but they're unable to work together because of the stances they had to take to fund their campaigns.

Fortunately, we've been successful so far in connecting with individual voters, and the bulk of our donations have been anywhere from $10 to a couple hundred dollars from Americans who believe there's a better way of doing things. That's the kind of campaign I want to run.

SA: A presidential campaign requires significant logistical support at both the national and local levels. How far along are you in building a campaign infrastructure, and what are your specific goals in developing a comprehensive one prior to 2016?

EO: It's still early in the game, but we've had no shortage of volunteers signing up the past few weeks. The next step is getting the right leadership in place locally that will let us turn that interest into a coordinated movement. The first goal is to have a solid ground game in place in New Hampshire.

SA: A national campaign requires not just national visibility but also national ballot access. On how many states' primary ballots do you expect to appear?

EO: Many people have this idea of getting your name on the ballot like it's about walking around and collecting signatures. Sometimes that's the case, but most people would be surprised to learn how often it comes down to cold, hard cash.

For instance, the only way to get on the primary ballot in South Carolina is to write a check for $40,000. I've heard that requiring cash instead of thousands of signatures is supposed to open up the race, but I'm not sure who it's opening it up for.

I will absolutely be on the ballot in New Hampshire. We'll be evaluating each state but I expect to be on the ballot in most, if not all fifty.

SA: President Obama met with particular success in 2008 in states that initially run caucuses rather than primaries. His thinking at the time, to hear the pundits tell it, was that passionate grass-roots support can more readily translate into wins in caucus states than primary states. How do you plan to get the word out to those voters who might be in a caucus state as opposed to a primary state?

EO: Interestingly enough, the first two states to vote, Iowa and New Hampshire, are a caucus and a primary state. I'd have to make a strong showing in one or both to have a shot at the nomination.

I believe our campaign's message will resonate strongly with independent-minded voters in New Hampshire. It's also where I've had the most requests from voters to host town hall events, which I'm looking to start very shortly.

My main focus will always be on getting our message out to the entire country, though. At the end of the day, I don't believe the contest for leading America should be about who's better at gaming an imperfect system.

SA: This election cycle features the most crowded GOP field in decades. Why did you choose to run now, and what -- specifically -- distinguishes you from every other candidate currently in the race?

EO: A lot of people are running now because there's so much at stake. The national debt has doubled in the past decade to almost $20 trillion. We'll pay $4 trillion over the next decade just on the interest. That's money that won't go to schools, won't go to our roads and bridges, and won't go to care for our veterans.

We keep sending the same people back to Washington because we haven't learned that, in a very real sense, we are stealing from our children. They're the ones who will have to pay the interest on our mistakes.

Unlike other candidates, I'm not running to be president of only one party. I identify as Republican because I believe in less government and letting people keep more of what they earn. I believe we should encourage success, not redistribute it.

However, there are a lot of issues that are important to Democrats that Republicans can do more to address.

I'm adamant that large companies and wealthy individuals shouldn't be able to play by a different set of rules just because they can hire more lobbyists and accountants.

While I agree that most decisions around education should be made at the state and local level, removing the federal government entirely from education would only ensure that children in poorer states receive a poorer education.

Like many Republicans, I'm a strong supporter of the free market -- but I believe it's only a free market if everyone has an opportunity to participate.

SA: We'd be remiss if we failed to note that there isn't really much information about you online, and that (as you concede in your introductory campaign video) you have little to no prior political experience. If non-politicians like Donald Trump are able to get on the GOP debate stage in large part because of their prior name recognition nationally, how do you, as a non-politician with no prior name recognition, plan to make your voice heard?

EO: I believe the initial intention when our government was founded was for private citizens to go to Washington, serve a term or two, and then go back home. Politics should be a temporary service to your country, not a career.

I'm not a public figure and I'm not particularly interested in being one. I believe politics should be about ideas, not personality, connections, or fund raising.

I think a lot of Americans agree, but they don't see an alternative. If not the career politicians, if not the billionaires, if not the people we see every day in the media, then who do we vote for?

I'm never going to win in a battle of money with Donald Trump. I'd welcome a battle of ideas any day of the week.

SA: Your biggest campaign success to date is a campaign announcement video on YouTube that's garnered substantially more views than the announcement video of any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, currently in the race. How did you manage to draw such attention to your first campaign video, and why do you think the audience for that video has continued to grow at such an exponential rate? Do you plan to make additional YouTube videos going forward, and/or seek advertising time/space in traditional television and print venues?

EO: Honestly, I've been humbled by the response so far. It's not just the number of people watching, it's all the people who have reached out to help with the campaign who really believe in the message and are actually excited about an election. A 51-year old woman emailed me recently to say that this will be the first election she's ever voted in. Getting more people involved in our democracy has been the most rewarding part of this whole process.

The speech does seem to have struck a chord with a lot of people. When you take big money out of the equation, what you have is a guy who doesn't owe any favors and can address the issues that people outside of Washington want addressed.

It's cliché that we keep hearing "Washington is broken, we need to send in an outsider, that's why you should vote for me" from people who have been in politics for decades. The same people who broke Washington are the ones who want us to vote for them again to fix it.

Is anyone really surprised that it's still broken?

I'll definitely be putting up more videos to address specific policy issues that voters want to know more about.

SA: Voters want to know not only the political philosophy of each candidate, but also how they'd actually govern. How would you summarize your political philosophy, and what could we expect -- with regard to executive orders, budget proposals, and/or legislative initiatives -- in the first hundred days of an Oliverez administration?

My top priority is comprehensive tax reform. If you do business in the U.S., if you make money in the U.S., then you'll pay taxes in the U.S. I'll close every loophole that lets multi-billion dollar companies stash money overseas and pay nothing in taxes. I'd use that revenue to significantly lower our tax rate on businesses, which is currently the highest in the world. Instead of chasing companies and jobs overseas, we'd attract new business, encourage entrepreneurship, investment and job creation by taking less money out of businesses.

I'd reform personal income taxes as well. I don't believe the tax on working should be higher than the tax on sitting back and collecting capital gains. Warren Buffett should not have a lower tax rate than his secretary. Hedge fund managers should not have a lower tax rate than teachers.

However, I also don't believe in punishing success. That's why all income would be treated equally and taxed equally. If one side of the aisle gets to make exceptions then the other side will, and we end up with the convoluted system we have now. This new, simplified system would drastically cut the estimated 6 billion hours Americans spend each year preparing their taxes.

SA: As we all know, experience comes in many forms. Can you describe what experiences outside the political arena you feel have prepared you for the massive undertaking of a political campaign and (if successful) a four- or eight-year term of national governance?

EO: A decade ago I was an administrative assistant making $8 an hour. A couple years later I was managing a $30 million annual marketing budget. A few years after that I was the sole owner of one of the fastest growing private companies in the country.

My comfort zone is new situations and new responsibilities. I'm not going to run a campaign the way others have been run, because I don't want to end up being another politician like the ones we've been getting.

It's easy to talk about an issue if a poll tells you it's important, but if you haven't held a job outside of Washington since before the turn of the century, there's no way you can truly understand the problem.

Unlike most career politicians, I remember what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck, to have to choose between paying for food or rent, to put off going to the doctor because you can't afford it. I know what it's like to have a bank foreclose on your house -- my family lost our home when I was 10 years old. I know what it's like to make minimum wage and not be able to find a better job.

That's why I know we need an economy to match the ambitions of Americans. It's not just about creating jobs, it's about creating a path to success that's available to every American. It's a free, fair market that rewards hard work and celebrates those that get ahead.

I've got a straightforward plan to get us there that both sides of the aisle can support.

Seth Abramson is an Assistant Professor of English at University of New Hampshire and the Series Co-Editor of Best American Experimental Writing, whose next edition will be published by Wesleyan University Press in late 2015. His most recent book of metamodern verse is Metamericana (BlazeVOX, 2015).