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How One Texas Candidate Is Using Memes and Facebook to Push the State Leftward

Illustration: Richard Wolf

Richard Wolf knows that he’s not your average political candidate. The 23-year-old from Flower Mound, Texas, is currently campaigning to become the Democratic nominee for House District 63, despite his admitted inexperience when it comes to state politics. “I mostly just post things online and spend a lot of time reading articles in [socialist magazine] Jacobin,” he told Select All over the phone. But we can say this for him: He has one of the best Facebook pages of any candidate we’ve seen this cycle.

His politics and his campaign style are in the vein of the “dirtbag left” movement — incubated online on message boards like Something Awful and spread on podcasts like Chapo Trap House, with intense web fandoms — that emerged following the 2016 election. It’s a combination of staunchly leftist politics and a refusal to adhere to the rules of respectful decorum and debate that traditional political operatives hold dear.

It’s not particularly tough to write off Wolf’s candidacy. The Dallas Morning News offered no recommendation in the Democratic primary that he’s on the ballot for, writing: “We suspect residents in this district would prefer somebody with a bit of life experience who can complete a questionnaire without resorting to profanities or boasts that he ‘will be the best legislator of all time.’” (His primary opponent declined to answer the paper’s questions, the Republican incumbent is running unopposed.) But that same questionnaire is also filled with earnest, serious policy positions, all stemming from the leftist politics Wolf picked up online. That same sensibility is applied to his campaign — serious policy positions presented via internet memes and online discourse. The primary is next week, and Wolf took a few minutes out of his schedule to explain his campaign strategy, and his plan to reform the Lone Star state.

When did you decide to run?

I actually filed to run on December 11, which was the last day to file — I think I made the decision at 2 a.m. the night before. At the time it was still when Roy Moore was campaigning in Alabama, right? So I was really mad about that and thinking about how a literal pedophile shouldn’t be able to succeed to the level that he did in any election, ever. Then I was listening to an episode of Chapo Trap House, the podcast, and I was like, “Fuck it, I’ll run.”

So you like Chapo? How did you start listening to that?

A long time ago, I used to read Something Awful’s old comedy politics forum, Laissez’s Faire, and so the combination of leftist politics with crude internet humor has always appealed to me; it’s been the foundation of a lot of how I think about politics. So I gave [Chapo] a shot.

What are some of your policy positions?

Right now, my campaign is largely focused on three issues. The first issue is basically making Texas the country’s second sanctuary state: Basically, I don’t think that taking people from their homes and sending them to camps or other countries is ethical or moral. I think it’s a crime against humanity. I need that to stop as quickly as possible. In addition to that, I also want to do things that can help make life easier for undocumented immigrants in our state. Just having a policy of sanctuary cities and ignoring our undocumented-immigrant population isn’t a very good fix, and there are still a lot of abuses they could face from ICE or the federal government, so I support a bunch of policies involving things like offering driver’s licenses or the ability to get insurance.

The second one is legalizing weed, medically, for everybody, as well as clearing the record of anybody who has weed-related crimes on the books, and letting people who are currently in jail or prison for weed charges out. Basically just retconning the whole set. It’d be cool if we could get Texas, the state, to be the actual organization that grows and sells marijuana. In the places where it’s currently legal, [weed farming] is run by private businesses and then the state adds a lot of taxes on top of it, which raises the price a lot. It’d be more effective if the actual state of Texas operated that business, so we wouldn’t have to raise taxes. It’d be great for Texas to be the country’s No. 1 producer of weed.

The third one is raising taxes. There’s three taxes that I think need to be raised quickly. The first is the state franchise tax. Right now, it’s relatively low because of our state’s tax revenue. The second would be our oil and gas production tax. Oil and gas production makes up almost 15 percent of our state’s GDP, but only makes up like 2 percent of our state’s tax revenue, which seems kind of weird to me. And then, with the new Trump tax plan, the limit for when people start paying the estate tax is doubled, I would institute a state-level estate tax that would apply to all of the estates that would have been taxable under the old plan. It would just cover the things that had been left out of our new tax plan.

Now I get to ask you about the meme stuff. What is your online marketing, or campaign, strategy?

Online marketing is really fun and surprisingly cheap. I still enjoy making things and sharing them and posting them. I haven’t done a whole lot of new stuff lately, but I think it’s really the way to go if you don’t have a lot of money. I don’t have a big campaign fund; I can’t make weird brochures and big signs to put in everybody’s yard in my neighborhood. Going digital has been pretty cost-effective.

Are you buying Facebook ads?

Yeah, I’m targeting people based off of shared interests. There’s also access to the Voter Activation Network, which is a database of people who have voted in Democratic primaries in the past. I can plug that into Facebook and it’ll just send my ads to those people, who would likely be voters in the Democratic primary that’s coming up.

Do you find Facebook’s ad system easy to use?

Remarkably easy. I don’t understand why anybody would have to pay anyone else to do it for them. It’s literally you just press two buttons.

How big is your campaign staff?

I am my only campaign staffer. I can’t afford to pay anyone else, and I won’t take volunteers because I can’t afford to pay them, and I don’t want unpaid labor.

I remember in 2016 that some Gary Johnson Super-PAC claimed to have spent $30,000 on internet memes. Do you think that’s a lot or a little?

Since they’re all homegrown, it’s basically free. I’ve put maybe $100 to $200 into advertising online, but that’s not been too much. And I don’t have to pay anyone to make them for me. That’s stupid.

Are you worried that people won’t get them, or people who aren’t well-versed in online stuff might just find it weird?

I mean, my grandma gets it, my parents get it. Everybody I’ve ever met has gotten it, even people who I normally wouldn’t expect to. It definitely turns a couple of people off — that’s for sure — but I’ve found that the overwhelming majority of people respond really positively to it. They think that it’s funny, they think that it’s interesting, it’s something that they’ve not seen from a politician before, and so it’s a little bit of a breath of fresh air for them. I’ve been trying to think of a way to do the “he protec, he attac,” but I just can’t think of anything related to me that would end with “ec.” That’s probably just gonna go in the dumpster eventually.

How confident are you feeling about the primary?

I don’t have any polling, so I don’t have any data to base a prediction off of, so I’m not even going to. I’m going into it confident. I have to be confident, otherwise there’s basically not a point. I’ll lose my mind. I wouldn’t guess the outcome.

Before I started posting these kinds of things, I talked to a couple people about it who said it would make me look too ridiculous, or it’s too far out there. And my response has sort of been that the kinds of policies that I’m advocating for, at least for the state of Texas, are pretty far out there to the left. They are not quite … normal things. No matter what I do, I am going to be considered some kind of crazy communist or some kind of total freak, or an insane idiot child who can’t do anything. You don’t have to be a private investigator to find out that I don’t have a college degree, I don’t have a career, I don’t have a lot of the background stuff. All of those things are attack ads that basically write themselves. Leaning into them has been my strategy for handling that once I get to the general election.

Right now, since it’s the primary, the potential for funny jokes is a little bit weak because I don’t want to attack my primary opponent. She’s very nice. But if I make it through this primary, that’s when the real heat can come out. I’m excited to run against him [Republican Tan Parker]; I’m excited to see if this strategy can be effective in a general election. And honestly, it’s made running a lot of fun, I’ve enjoyed myself. I love talking to people; I seriously do care about politics. It’s not like a stupid joke only.

You sound sincere! But I’m also looking at your ActBlue campaign, which says, “donating money to my campaign is a BAD IDEA and i honestly DO NOT RECOMMEND IT,” and trying to raise $69,000.

Yeah, I made that ActBlue page specifically for people on the Something Awful forums because they kept asking to donate.

Are you worried that people might think this is all a joke or a put-on?

No, every time I’ve talked to somebody, and if anybody actually visits my Facebook page, it becomes obvious really quickly that there’s a lot of policy issues that are important to me. And that I have an actual specific plan. I understand the trepidation that somebody might have, just looking at maybe a picture that was shared on Twitter, but once I get a chance to communicate with them, I put those worries to rest pretty easily. I’m not going around trolling.

If you eventually get this seat, how many people would you represent?

The estimate from the state of Texas is 176,777.

Does that number make you nervous at all?

I don’t see why it would.

It’s a lot of people, I think, by any stretch.

Logan Paul got a million subscribers and he wasn’t even posting videos for a month. That’s like one-fifth of that. I do want to be clear: Fuck Logan Paul, though, that dude’s a real piece of shit. I’ve just watched a lot of videos of him lately, so he’s on my mind.

Are there any YouTubers you like?

Oh, there’s a lot of great YouTubers I like! If you want to know specifically political ones, there’s stuff like ContraPoints, Shaun and Jen (I think he just goes by Shaun now), and H.Bomberguy — [they] are all great people creating political content from the left, and trying to fight the sort of very strong, ultra-right-wing, super-racist Nazis that have been festering on YouTube for a long time. Those are all three great channels.

Is there anything I didn’t ask you about that you wanted to plug or mention?

These are organizations that I’m completely not associated with, but North Texas Dream Team and Equality Texas are two solid political organizations in our state that are really active and do a lot of political work, so I have a lot of respect for them. I recently got a shout-out from Matt Bruenig; I like his thing, the People’s Policy Project. And shout-out to my dad.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

This Texas Candidate Uses Memes to Push the State Leftward