Interview with ND College Republicans Former President Mark Gianfalla

Author: Rich Hidy

Interview with ND College Republicans Former President Mark Gianfalla

Mark Gianfalla was the President of the College Republicans at Notre Dame for two years. A finance major and 2015 graduate, Gianfalla appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News last year and was vocal about his conservative ideology in debates and conversations around campus. Gianfalla is now an investment banker in New York, but took the time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts on Notre Dame’s political preferences and the topic of the 2016 election with Scholastic.

What do you think are the general political attitudes and preferences of Notre Dame students? What did you learn about Notre Dame students during your time as the president of the young republicans club from a political perspective?

Gianfalla: I think as a whole the Notre Dame student body falls slightly to the right, but I think most on the right already think they’re in the majority and don’t take an interest in politics on campus because they see it as unnecessary. This is something that I have come to realize while I was at Notre Dame. People who feel more strongly about liberal beliefs like gay marriage or amnesty for illegal immigrants have a feeling that they are in the minority and go out and show passion for those issues. There’s a silent majority and a loud minority at Notre Dame. I have found that a number of students agree with me a lot, but would never say anything. We have a huge club. Including non-dues paying people on our Listserv, that number is well over 1,000. People who register for club communications. We have 200-250 dues-paying members, which is huge. Last year we had a fundraiser and raised close to $40,000.

People who attend the events are generally interested in the issues from our side. They might not show up to meetings or write in student media publications. They might not be involved in a debate. There are a number of students always looking to debate on the liberal side. When I took over as president of the club for two years, I noticed that we didn’t always have a voice. A lot of Republicans believed what I believed, but you never heard from those people. It’s unfortunate, and that’s why I stepped up the club to a higher profile and became more boisterous on campus with my own beliefs.

Obviously, I faced a lot of criticism but towards the end of my senior year countless people came up to me and said that they wanted me to know that they agree with me, which I found very rewarding. There are a number of people that agree with what our club promotes that aren’t the ones you here about all the time. We have the College Republicans, which covers a broad spectrum of issues, not just a group devoted to all-things liberal, such as the Progressive Student Association. Then you have the College Democrats, who have been less boisterous than other liberal organizations on campus. Student government will lean to the left in a lot of instances. You don’t want student government involved as much in national politics. The liberals who have been involved have done that. You’re not always faced with a high profile conservative at Notre Dame.

How would you characterize the last 8 years under President Obama?

Gianfalla: I think disappointing would be one word to sum it up. If you look at a lot of things that he’s attempted to do or said he’d do, things have failed or gone on at a much lesser scale than he promised. Even from a Democratic perspective, the things that he said he’d achieve on his own agenda, such as exiting the war in the Middle East, he’s failed to do.

The country is in a worst economic position. The health care system that he’s created is an absolute mess. The failure to balance the budget and the national debt is crippling, not only for our country’s financial health, but also the economy at large.

What do you think are the most important issues in the 2016 election?

Gianfalla: It’s a pretty pivotal election, as was 2012. I think Immigration is going to be a large issue. I don’t think it necessarily would have been if President Obama didn’t make it such a problem for his eight years with the Dream Act and his talk about a path to citizenship.

A lot of Republicans are coming out strong to show that we need to preserve our immigration system for those that come in legally, and not cave to those who cut the line unfairly and have been stealing from our economy. This has come to the forefront because of Donald Trump’s candidacy. Another issue naturally is going to be jobs and trade. A number of candidates are in favor of new corporate tax policies to invite companies back and repatriate their foreign earnings. Also, how to deal with the government sponsored systems such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare.

Steps that the candidates should be taking are to be able to explain in layman’s terms why Republican policies will benefit this country more than the Democrats’ policies. You literally have a card carrying socialist polling at 20 percent. Socialism doesn’t work, especially at a large scale. We need to be able to explain that. I don’t think we are going to be running against Bernie Sanders. It’s most likely going to be Hillary Clinton. The fact that a large portion of Democrats favors these policies shows what we are up against and the ideology of the other side.

We need to explain that government involvement in really anything doesn’t work. When we hosted Ann Coulter on campus, I remember very vividly her relating this issue to the topic of satisfaction over the last time you visited the DMV. That is a government system. Health care can become like that easily. In Massachusetts, you have to wait a while to get an appointment and it’s never when you want it. Private sector has always been more successful at doing things than the government. This is a major point that Republicans can harp on. We need to show facts. We need to show specifics and we need to inform people about the differences between private sector and government.

For immigration, it’s important to stress that this is a country of immigrants who came here legally. Even though our ancestors, our grandparents did it legally, we are now saying that people can cut the line. There are laws in this country for a reason. There are good people waiting in line to immigrate to become Americans. Marco Rubio said we want people who are willing to partake in our unique economic and social systems. We don’t want people who take advantage of the system and are now taking more than they give as far as the economy and taxes and really bankrupting states and the country at large.

Who has impressed you most in the first three republican debates?

Gianfalla: There are a number of candidates who I think are strong. I have been a Donald Trump fan since he’s announced. A lot of people laugh at Donald Trump but I think it’s important to look at the energy he brings to the race and the passion he has for the issues. Someone like Marco Rubio has flip-flopped on important issues such as immigration. We wouldn’t even be talking about immigration if not for Donald Trump. He has published a lot of policies detailing pretty specifically such as his immigration and economic plans that are really quite good. I like Donald Trump for the fact that I agree with a lot of what he says. I am opposed to a path to citizenship via amnesty, which he is as well. America needs someone who is experienced in business to balance the budget and to improve trade relationships. He has already spoken about breaking NAFTA or at least renegotiating the agreement. I think it’s disastrous. He always uses the example of Nabisco leaving for Mexico, which is directly a result of having NAFTA in place. I think he understands that well. He’s done business in countries that we’ve had trade problems with, such as China.

I think someone who has shined in the debates, although not my candidate of choice, is Chris Christie. I would say he won the third debate. I think nobody is going after him on the issues that he stands apart from the party on or issues that can hurt his campaign because they don’t see him as a relevant opponent yet. Bringing up the debate, I think Marco Rubio performed poorly in the third debate. I am someone who thought CNBC asked pretty good questions and also stand staunchly to the right. I wanted to hear the candidates answer those questions. A lot of Americans are wondering if Trump is taking the campaign seriously. Why should Marco Rubio be elected after foreclosing on his own home and mismanaging his personal finances? I think they wanted to hear about Ted Cruz’s involvement in the budget deal that just got passed. These are questions the candidates didn’t want to answer. How is Jeb Bush going to improve his campaign after cutting salaries? These are questions the candidates clearly didn’t want to answer, so they turned it on the moderators. I think these are valid questions.

I don’t think Rubio should necessarily be looked at as a responsible candidate if he can’t manage his own finances. I think that was a positive question that he couldn’t answer because the fact is that he foreclosed on his home. I don’t think he performed very well at all. He was called out on a number of weaknesses, including by Jeb Bush, for not voting on a number of big Senate bills since he’s been running his campaign. Rubio I think came out a lot lower in favorability. I think that Christie did the best in the third debate. Cruz did well, although he used his time to attack the moderators. Trump came out and didn’t attack or cut people off. He explained his positions well and brought up campaign finance reform. Christie has been consistently the best in the debates, but overall I like Trump the best based on his stances on the important issues and his passion on things that matter.

What do you think of the current election theme of the establishment vs. the outsiders?

I think it’s an interesting topic and the same with the Democrats. Look at Bernie Sanders. He’s a politician but nowhere near the realm of the mainstream Democratic Party. People are fed up with the establishment. Personally, I’m pretty upset with how the RNC Chairman has handled this race. He’s pretty much as establishment as you can get. People are starting to fall away from him because Jeb Bush has been propped up as a candidate who really has no place in this race. All along, the mainstream Republican Party has been rooting for him similar to how the Democrats have been rooting for Hillary. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats pulled the reigns off when Obama started polling better in the 2008 election and let the voters choose. The RNC still has more of an active hand. The distrust of the establishment goes to an interesting Republican environment. I think you have a lot of very far right conservatives who don’t want any compromise. That’s troublesome.

I am actually someone who thought John Boehner did a decent job. I’m sad to see him go. He could have been stronger on issues, but at the end of the day, we are not going to defund Planned Parenthood and get our budget deals passed because Obama will veto them and we will look like the bad guy. That’s how the media will frame it. President Obama will equally be at fault but that’s not how people will see it. Boehner tried to do his best to not ruin the party’s perception in the people’s eyes. We should stand up for everything and block deals from going through, but allowing the government to shut down reflects poorly on us as a party. We are not a party that can win by just getting our base out to vote. We have to get swing voters to win elections as Republicans. You can’t do that when the media is framing you as responsible for shutting down the government.

A lot of people want to see us be more aggressive as the far right and not being into compromise. I don’t think President Obama is ever interested in compromise, but we have to in order to keep our good name. I think people look at Donald Trump, who has experience better suited to run the country better than a career politician. The next four years aren’t going to be framed by who made the best laws within Washington. It’s going to be about who can get the most done in the economy and internationally. We’ve seen failures in that sense by career politicians. People want to see a background in business or an outsider view that resonates more with an outsider who votes.

I am a little surprised by the Carson popularity because he lacks any experience applicable to being President. I think you’ll see his poll numbers start to fall. This is someone who could have been the average voter in the last election now being propped up to run. If you feel like you are similar to a candidate, that’s a connection. That’s something I believe people see with Carson, whereas I think it’s the business background with Trump. That appeals to people. I think that was something overlooked with Romney because of his time as a Massachusetts Governor and his flip-flopping on issues such as health care. I think Trump is a more solid business candidate than Romney, which a lot of voters resonate with.

What factor do you think the media plays in political beliefs in this country?

Gianfalla: I think it plays a huge role. As someone who has travelled quite frequently abroad, international opinions of America are shaped by what is heard in the media. CNN has a big viewer base internationally. A lot of people will repeat verbatim what the media says about things. A lot of people will take what the media says as fact. Especially nowadays with media members as activists and not just reporters.

The average person does not realize that certain members of the media have agendas and are propagating their own beliefs through a platform. A lot of people won’t look for other sources for information. I will read articles from different news sources to get a balance for what is going on. Fox News says a lot of things that I don’t agree with and a lot of things that I do. The average person doesn’t seek multiple news sources. People don’t always have time or the desire. The media is the avenue for information regarding political systems and the state of the country. In this country, it is a fact that the media leans largely to the left with the exception of the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. It is very difficult to point to a major news source that doesn’t propagate liberal beliefs. There are some that I think are pretty balanced, but a number of sources use their position in the media to gain support for liberal causes.

Are there any words of advice that you would like to express to the ND community?

Gianfalla: One thing I stress to everybody is to always be open to dialogue. I tried to foster it on campus and foster it in the right setting. There were a number of debates that I was invited to that I knew were going to be a complete waste of our time to partake in. If the group sets something up for the purpose of actually having dialogue, then that’s something people should go out of their way to attend. There was a debate on immigration towards the end of last year, which was a great debate. It was a fair debate and students needed to hear a conservative stance on immigration, and if I didn’t partake in it, nobody would have heard that stance. People need to be open to hearing other people’s opinions and if they have opinions that differ, they need to be willing to voice them. It goes both ways. People need to be more open to dialogue, more respectful of other people’s beliefs. People want to promote acceptance of others, but we don’t want to accept people with differing beliefs. That’s something very true at Notre Dame, and I faced a lot of criticism for voicing my beliefs.

Some people said things that were extremely liberal and never got any pushback. I don’t think we should criticize people. People need to be more open and respectful. More people should be out there questioning things that happen on campus on both sides and try to get answers from the administration and professors. If everyone just sits back and allows things to happen, it’s going to get one-sided very quickly. 

Interview with College Democrats Officers Grace Watkins, President, and Andrew Galo, Secretary.