After being sidelined from nearly every single Republican primary debate so far, Jim Gilmore will finally get the chance to take the stage on Thursday night.
The former Virginia governor and long-shot presidential hopeful will participate in the decidedly less prestigious undercard debate hosted by Fox News.
The odds are stacked against him. Gilmore doesn’t have the kind of name recognition or money to match many of his presidential rivals. It’s an ultra-low-profile candidacy that has left even Donald Trump at a loss for words. “Him, I don’t know,” Trump told the New York Times in August when asked to comment on Gilmore.
How has the candidate made it this far? Why exactly is he running? I asked him these and other questions Thursday afternoon. A transcript of the conversation, edited for length and clarity, appears below.
Clare Foran: You haven’t been on the debate stage for a while. What does it feel like to know that you’re going to be participating in tonight’s undercard debate?
Jim Gilmore: Well I’m just pleased to have the opportunity to talk to the American people in a forum like that about what I believe is the direction of the nation and what are the significant issues facing the American people.
Foran: Was it a surprise to you when you found out you would be included in the debate?
Gilmore: It wasn’t a surprise. We understood that the brass are controlling this and deciding the criteria. It’s completely out of my hands. I don’t control that. I have to run the race the way that I think is strategically the way that I want to run it. I’ve been doing that by many, many appearances in New Hampshire and some appearances in South Carolina and across the rest of the country. But they established criteria and I met those criteria so they included me, and of course I’m going to come and participate.
Foran: What are you hoping to achieve tonight?
Gilmore: I want the American people to know that I think that this is a grave time of danger for the United States. We have national security challenges that are very dangerous. This is no time to put an amateur in the White House and I have the background and experience that the other candidates don’t have to be the commander in chief and to guide the United States through this dangerous time. Secondly, I want to talk about veterans issues because I’m the only veteran in this race and I care a lot about veterans rights. Third, I want to talk about Second Amendment rights. Second Amendment rights are under assault and that really is an effort to redefine the role of the individual in society, and I’m just not going to permit the president to redefine our Second Amendment rights and to take people’s guns away, and I think that’s what he intends to do.
Foran: Has it been frustrating not having the opportunity to appear in the debates as much as you would have liked?
Gilmore: Look, my credentials are as good or better as any candidate in the race so naturally it’s frustrating that I don’t have an opportunity to present those credentials and these ideas to the American people, of course. This is a time in America where information is controlled by the organized media. When the RNC, the Republican National Committee, outsourced the nomination to the organized media they took all that out of my hands. So I have to reach out to the American people every opportunity I can and this invitation to this debate is another opportunity.
Foran: Why do you think the media has overlooked your candidacy compared to somebody like the frontrunner Donald Trump who has gotten so much attention?
Gilmore: The media has decided that the opportunity to talk to the American people will be based upon polls and they pick the polls. Then the people who are featured on the stage are given the opportunity to show up in the polls so it’s very circular, but all of it is driven by the effort of the media to sell commercials and to make money. So the interests of the American people are very secondary. Meanwhile, society has really changed. The information that goes to the American people about their politics is being controlled by the cable and news networks so it’s a real challenge and certainly if I become president we’re going to define the fact that the media people are giving such an enormous amount of money to their selected candidates by giving them all the free air time.
Foran: So you’re saying that the media has chosen and preferred candidates and is giving more air time to them?
Gilmore: Yes, I do. It’s what’s most flamboyant. The more outrageous the statements that can be made, the more they believe that’s entertainment. It’s not public policy, it’s entertainment.
Foran: What has kept you in the race despite being kept out of the debates, and what would it take for you to change your mind and decide to not continue in the race?
Gilmore: The answer to your second question is nothing will change my mind. For the question of what’s made me do it: Listen I’ve lived my life in public service. I’ve been an elected prosecutor, attorney general, governor, United States Army veteran, chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction for the United States designated by the Congress, these are the credentials that I bring. I was governor during the 9/11 attack. The country is in trouble. It’s in trouble because we are being confronted and put into danger by other nation states across the world. We are seeing a complete dissolution of the Middle East and an international guerrilla war which is costing the lives of Americans and endangering our way of life. And the march of socialism at home continues to march ahead. It has to be changed and we have to learn to live as free people. As the American president I intend to chart that course for the American people and that's’ why I’m in the race.
Foran: When you say we’re seeing the march of socialism are you referring particularly to the fact that on the Democratic side Bernie Sanders is running as a Democratic socialist, or do you see that as a more general trend?
Gilmore: A more general trend, because of the Democratic party. It isn’t just Bernie Sanders, he’s just more honest about it. He thinks we’ve arrived at a point where we can just tell people that the Democratic party is a socialist party and he’ll be fine and maybe he will. But Hillary Clinton is cut from the same cloth and they’re both committed to moving the country in the same direction. There’s no example in history of socialism being a benefit to the American people … It’s time for somebody to bell the cat and tell the truth, which is that a socialist approach has never worked in history, and it will never work in the future. It didn’t work in Russia. It won’t work in America.
Foran: Would you say that Hillary Clinton is just as much of a socialist as Bernie Sanders?
Gilmore: Yes I would, wouldn't you? Oh, never mind that.
Foran: Do you think you’ve done as much campaigning as other candidates?
Gilmore: Well, I’ve campaigned a lot. Some of the other candidates are richer. Many of them have very rich sponsors that enable them to do more things. But within the confines of the financial capabilities that I have I think I’ve campaigned a great deal. There’s no point in comparing myself to other candidates. Everybody has different resources and different experience different strategy. I have my strategy and I’m executing it.
Foran: There’s been a lot of speculation about the future of the Republican party and whether it should be led by somebody who takes a more inclusive tone, or somebody who, like Trump, is willing to say we need to take extreme measures to keep America safe even if that means excluding some people. I was wondering what you think about that.
Gilmore: I do not intend to lead the Republican party to narrowing and excluding people. I do not approve of scapegoating people and playing on people’s fears. I will not lead the Republican party in that direction.
Foran: Do you think that Donald Trump is leading the Republican party in that direction?