When Failure is Not an Option

Host, Ken Harbaugh, interviews political leaders, influencers, and other history makers about the choices we confront when failure is not an option. Choices like Alexander the Great made when he landed his troops on the shores of Persia and ordered his men to burn their boats.

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Josh Remillard: Defeating Madison Cawthorn in NC-13

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Josh Remillard: Defeating Madison Cawthorn in NC-13

Josh Remillard is an Army Vet running for congress as a Democrat in North Carolina’s 13th congressional district. His campaign focuses on education, healthcare, and sustainability, and defeating Madison Cawthorn.

For more information about his campaign, visit joshremillard.com

Find Josh on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube

To learn more about Josh's time in the Army, check out his interview on Warriors In Their Own Words.

Ken Harbaugh:

Burn the Boats is proud to support VoteVets, the nation’s largest and most impactful progressive veterans organization. To learn more, or to join their mission, go to VoteVets.org.

Josh Remillard:

Honestly, I think that there are a lot of Republicans who are disgusted with the fringe right. Because that's what he is. He's the fringe right. He's the loudest one speaking in the room and unfortunately he's making himself, or others are making him seem like the middle of a bell curve.

Ken Harbaugh:

I’m Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

My guest today is Josh Remillard, an army vet running for Congress as a Democrat in North Carolina's 13th congressional district. His campaign focuses on education, healthcare, and sustainability, and defeating Madison Cawthorn. Josh, welcome to Burn the Boats.

Josh Remillard:

Hey, thank you guys so much for having me on here.

Ken Harbaugh:

The subheader of your campaign website when I searched for it on Google says, "Josh Remillard for Congress. No more insurrections." Not every day that that is the animating principle of a campaign for Congress, but you're facing some unusual circumstances. Talk to us about your motivation and the role the opponent plays in your campaign.

Josh Remillard:

Yeah, absolutely. Look, I mean, just a little bit about myself: I learned early that life is a fight. I mean, I guess that's sort of how the world looks when you have a tough childhood. I was raised inside the foster care system. I lived all over the place in North Carolina, and it wasn't until my grandparents were able to adopt me that things settled down a little bit. My grandfather worked for the state department and he and my grandmother were looking forward to traveling around the world and living out their golden years. But then they realized I needed them.

And look, even when I got older, the jobs I even held were fights. I mean, I worked on a tugboat as a deckhand. I worked as a piercer in a tattoo shop, and then as a bouncer. And then, when I was in my mid twenties, that's when I joined the army, 2006. I was sort of moping around town, looking at the news, seeing the death toll rise. And I just hated myself. I was like, "What am I doing?" I'm over here trying to use a coupon and go get a Hardees burger and stuff. I felt like I was just sort of cheating the system.

So I drove down the recruiter and I said, "Look, man, I want you to sign me up. I want you to put me in the infantry and I want you to, if you're able to, put me in the fastest deploying unit overseas. I need to be in that fight."

And then when I left the army after my tours were up, I guess in a sense the army never really left me. As an infantryman, your mindset is always based on ‘you have a mission and your mission is to go after the enemy.’ And so when you get out of the army, it's difficult for you to transition out. But then I found an organization, Team Rubicon. It's a veteran organization. They train veterans on how to respond to natural disasters, and then they deploy us all over the country. They helped me get my wildland firefighter certification, and they helped me get my damage assessment certification. They sent me down to Florida after hurricane Michael.

I married a wonderful woman, Rhiannon. And I thought for the first time after we met in our home here in Canton, in North Carolina, about what a peaceful, calm, battle-free life might be like, even though we have two toddlers, Guinevere and Eowyn. It's never calm, nor peaceful at the house.

But then I felt like I was summoned again to a different kind of fight. And this time it was to an all-to-American face. And that's Madison Cawthorn. On January 6th, he stood up at the ellipse and he was encouraging that mob to go and overtake our nation's capital, as a matter of fact that day, I remember, I guess you could say the switch in my head flipped, and I just remember being really angry and screaming at the TV. My wife comes home and she's like, "What are you yelling at?"

I'm like, "Look! Look what's happening to our capital right now. This is supposed to happen in other countries, not our country." And it was sort of at that moment that I decided, you know, I lost battle buddies overseas. I lost a really, really close friend of mine due to PTSD back home, and I felt like everything that Cawthorn was doing was spitting in the face of all of that sacrifice, that 200 years of military service people have fought and died for this country just so someone like Cawthorn can come over and encourage mobs to overthrow our nation's capital, our Constitution, our symbol of freedom. And I just said, "I can't live with myself if I don't do this." So I stepped into the ring.

Ken Harbaugh:

That is Team Rubicon's motto, as I'm sure you're aware, "Step Into The Arena." And I know some of our listeners are probably jumping up and down right now, and I can't believe you and I didn't make this connection earlier, but I was the president of Team Rubicon Global and got my red card, that's my wildland firefighter card through TR as well. So we got a few things in common, Josh.

Josh Remillard:

That's outstanding.

Ken Harbaugh:

But I feel I can get away with this as a fellow vet. I'm going to just say what I'm sure a lot of folks listening to this are thinking, hearing your background. Deckhand on a tugboat, et cetera, et cetera, army infantry. Dude, you should be a Republican, right?

Josh Remillard:

You know, I get that question asked a lot. I hear people say, "Hey, thank you for your service, but why a Democrat?" And, you know, honestly, I wasn't even political most of my life. I remember I came back for R&R one time from a deployment and my aunt asked me, "What president are you going to vote for?" And I said, "Aunt Jeannie, I don't even care." And she's like, "Why?" And I said, "Well, you know, if I vote for president A, and president B gets elected, guess what? That's my commander-in-chief." I mean, that was a really faulty argument, I guess you could say, a really weak argument.

But when I got out of the army, I started using my post 9/11 GI bill. I wanted to do something more in my life. So I worked on getting my degree. I got my bachelor's degree in political science and philosophy. And I think that during that time while I was working on my degree, I started making connections with my service, being in the army and then society, if you will.

You know, in the army it's important that everyone has a good education, at least as far as your specialty is concerned. So that way we can be the greatest fighting force in the world. Then you have the fact that everyone gets equal pay. Whatever you rank is, that's what your pay is. Then there's healthcare. Everyone has good healthcare. Because I mean, I would hate for the guy in the foxhole next to me to be sick while I'm trying to lay down cover fire.

And so I started thinking like, if it works in the military, why can't it work in society? And I think that at that point I was like, "You know, I guess fundamentally I'm a Democrat." But the bottom line is when I was overseas and we were engaged in combat, it didn't matter. The people to my left, to my right, it didn't matter if you were progressive, if you were conservative, if you were Republican. It didn't matter. What matters is you're getting shot at. You need to get home. You need to get back to base. So solve the problem, and Charlie Mike, or continue the mission. You know?

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah. Does that messaging break through, though, in a political climate that is so polarized, where tribal identity is so determinative of how people vote more than policy orientation. Because you're right. You're going to get in trouble just because I'm saying this, but the military is a pretty good example of certain socialist approaches to things working, right? Like uniform pay, merit-based pay based on your rank, medical coverage for all, et cetera, et cetera. And if you can label that with anything other than the term Democratic policy, it's pretty attractive. But in the North Carolina 11th, I'm sorry, 13th. You might have to explain the redistricting if we ask. But in the 13th, what's it like wearing the label Democrat?

Josh Remillard:

You know, I think that probably on its face initially people are like, "Okay, well you're not going to win because you're a Democrat." But the bottom line is I think that my background is why I can win here. You know, I'm a combat veteran. I served this nation like a lot of men and women. I've never backed down from a fight. And this specific one, I'm not going to back down from. But at the end of the day, I think that if people are going to elect a Democrat, it's got to be someone like them, who's going to fight for them. And who's not going to put special interests ahead of them.

And like I said, the reason I'm running against Madison Cawthorn is the reason I can beat him. I'm not running because I want to be in Congress, but because I served this country. Madison Cawthorn betrayed that trust, and I want our country back.

Ken Harbaugh:

Didn't he go to the Naval Academy?

Josh Remillard:

No, he didn't.

Ken Harbaugh:

I bring that up because it gets to a larger point about the enormous... Cachet is not the right word. But the authority that veterans bring to conversations like this. So much that a congressional candidate who was rejected from Annapolis would lie about it just to be able to wear that label of a veteran, or want-to-be veteran. It's really powerful in my part of the country and your part of the country. How do you wear that responsibility as a veteran, speaking as someone who didn't just swear an oath, but risked your life for it.

Josh Remillard:

It makes me mad. It does make me mad. Because again, I mean, there are too many people that raised their right hand, oath of enlistment, served this country, and didn't come back home unless it was in a coffin. And they did it because they wanted to serve something larger than themselves. I wanted to serve something larger than myself. I felt like I was cheating the system because I wasn't serving.

So to see someone like Madison Cawthorn commit to false patriotism, it's disgusting. It's a disgusting lie. Because that means someone who's going to raise their right hand is ultimately willing to pay the ultimate price for this country. And you're right. I think that he realized that being a veteran, someone who served, it carries weight. It carries a lot of weight, especially in this district, especially in the district that he was elected in. And that was in my mind probably how he figured, his calculation, how he would get elected.

And so like I said before, I want people to know, Republican or not, it doesn't matter to me whether you're a Republican Democrat, conservative, progressive, it doesn't matter. If you live in the district, you deserve someone who's actually going to put policy at the forefront, who's going to work to make your lives better, because every single person deserves that. And that's exactly what I want to do.

Ken Harbaugh:

We get a lot of candidates for Congress asking to come on. But we're talking to you because I think your race represents something bigger. Because I see Madison Cawthorn as really a symptom. I mean, he's uniquely awful in a lot of ways, but he's also a symbol of a real threat to our democracy. And from our earlier conversation, before we hit the record button, it sounds like that animates you as well, the idea of accountability. And well, I said it at the top, no more insurrections. What do you think is at stake? And it's not just one congressional seat.

Josh Remillard:

You're right. On January 6th, I was sort of moping around the house, doing some odds and ends chores, and I saw what was happening on the news and I just remember the switch flipping in my head and screaming at the TV. And my wife comes home and she's like, "What are you yelling at?" And I was like, "Look,! Look what's happening right now." Like you expect this in other countries, not in America. Not in a place that service members have fought and died for the past 200 plus years to protect, our Constitution, our way of life, our friends and our family. And yet here you have a person, just so that he can be famous, over here encouraging an angry mob to overthrow our nation's capital.

I couldn't live with myself if I didn't get involved in this race. Because that's not right. I lost a really, really close friend of mine due to PTSD. I lost battle buddies overseas. And it hurts. That's a painful memory to think that he gave of the ultimate sacrifice for this country and it scarred him for the rest of his life to the point where he ended up having to take it. And to see someone like Madison Cawthorn and just parade around, it's disgusting to me. So like I said, I had to step in the ring. I couldn't let this stand.

Ken Harbaugh:

What do you make of the lack of remorse among those instigators, folks who moved their most extreme supporters to act the way they did on January 6th, but from a safe distance? They weren't on the front lines of that. They were rear echelon instigators, and since then have doubled down. What do you think about that?

Josh Remillard:

Yeah. Two words. Devious and cowardice. To sit in the comforts of your hotel room, like I imagine Madison Cawthorn did, ordering up some room service, arming yourself with only your cell phone, and then turning your followers into insurrectionists. That is just disgusting.

And the idea that Madison Cawthorn specifically would take aim at the cops and the police officers, the men and women in blue, who most of them were Republican, defending our Constitution, would take aim at them, and defame them, and denigrate them after all the sacrifices that they took. I mean, broken bones, traumatic brain injury. The four that ended up taking their lives. I mean, come on, man. The more I think about what he has done, it just angers me.

Ken Harbaugh:

But now you're a candidate. And you've got to convince a hundred plus thousand people in the North Carolina 13th to vote for you. Do they care? I mean, I often have to challenge myself about whether I'm in a bubble. I mean, I can ask Declan, our producer, but we've probably done half a dozen or more episodes on January 6th. I care about this stuff, but I'm not convinced that the average voter does, or you tell me, the median voter in the North Carolina 13th.

Josh Remillard:

Yeah. So, I'll back up a little bit more and talk about the 13th. So initially Cawthorn was elected for the NC 11th congressional district, which is Western North Carolina, everything from Asheville all the way to the very tip of North Carolina. He was elected there. And then after the lines had been redrawn, the district became more competitive for a Democrat to win. It went from, I think it was as an R plus 12 to an R plus seven. And it was shortly after that he had announced that he was going to run in the newly-drawn NC 13 district, which is the home district of NC Republican house speaker, Tim Moore.

Now there's people out there saying that the district was essentially drawn for Tim Moore to run for Congress. And then Madison Cawthorn runs in that district because it's an R plus 12, R plus 13, I think. And his announcement video was received as very condescending. Now he didn't specifically say this, but the tone and the message that came across was, "You are too stupid, and you need me to fight for you," to which Tom Tillis' wife even came out and was like, "We don't need you." To which Tim Moore has even come out recently and had an interview that says he's effectively disgusted with Madison Cawthorn. And slews and slews of prominent Republicans have come out, and even conservative radio has come out and criticized the move. Like essentially, "Who are you to think that we need you?" So he has fractured, he is dividing the Republican party in North Carolina, at least within the NC 13 district.

There's been several prominent Republicans that are like, "Look, I'd even vote for a Democrat just so I don't have to deal with Madison Cawthorn." And so I think that this is where someone like myself fits in. I think that, like I said before, people I think would vote for someone like me as long as they see me as someone who will fight for their interests. Someone who has served this country. You know, this isn't a political game for me. This is saving our democracy. This is saving our country.

Ken Harbaugh:

What will you do if you lose?

Josh Remillard:

I mean, if I lose I'll keep fighting a good fight. I'll keep going around, being a part of the community, talking to people and trying to encourage them to be vocal. And look, I mean, if he does end up winning, it's the right thing to do, is, I guess you could say, to congratulate him if he wins. But we're going to try like hell to make sure that we win.

Ken Harbaugh:

That's the right answer. And it's a pretty good test for me when you ask folks who make a good stump speech about fighting for their country, but their answer to what do you do if you lose is, "Oh, I'll go back to investment banking," or whatever. "I'll go back to real estate." It doesn't quite meet the urgency of the moment. I know you've got a tough race and a betting man would say the odds are against you. But if you lose the fight's not over, and I'm glad your heart's still in the fight.

What is your long-term prognosis for the democratic crisis we're facing? I'm asking you because you're on the front lines of it. Do you think that the Madison Cawthorns of the world are supernovas that shine bright and are going to flare out? Or is something really sinister happening on the right, and taking over the Republican party writ large?

Josh Remillard:

This is definitely something. And look, Madison Cawthorn is a particular kind of evil. But he's not dumb. He knew that the election wasn't stolen. He knew that it had been certified. He knew that it was secure. I think there's an undertone here. I think that there are people, like you said, there is a sinister move here to keep people like him in power. I mean, because he has gone around not only the country, but the state of North Carolina trying to encourage other radicals like himself to go stand up and run for office just like him.

So they're trying to bolster themselves. But the thing about it is, honestly, I think that there are a lot of Republicans who are disgusted with the fringe right. Because that's what he is. He's the fringe right. He's the loudest one speaking in the room and unfortunately he's making himself, or others are making him seem like the middle of a bell curve.

But going back to what I was just saying, I think there are a lot of Republicans out there that are like, "This is not the Republican party that I grew up in. That I grew up loving and respecting." And that's why I believe that there's a division in the statewide GOP, because there's people like, "This is not the Republican party. You are not the Republican party." And I guess maybe that there is probably some gravitas behind it because I think that some people are probably upset with maybe the way the Democrats speak. I don't know.

You know, my big thing is I want to talk about issues with a microscope that are centered around my district, the day- to-day issues that people are dealing with. And perhaps people aren't hearing that. They're not hearing that from the Democratic party. They're hearing about the big bills, the infrastructure bill. And while that's great and all, the issue is people aren't hearing how they're going to be affected at the dinner table. They're not hearing how they're going to be affected in their neighborhoods. And I think that if we start talking to people where they are, we can probably squash this movement from Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Green and the rest.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, I want to give you a chance to do that. Because we have spent perhaps an inordinate amount of time talking about your opponent and what he represents. And certainly part of your campaign is defeating that. But you've got a positive message too. What are your hopes for the North Carolina 13th?

Josh Remillard:

For me personally, I want to help take care of veterans. I want to take care of my brothers and sisters in arms who fought for this country. I want to help update the hospitals, modernize them up to at least the age of private sector hospitals. So that's a big issue for me. I want to help improve the economy around the district. I want, as best that I can, to ensure that money goes where it needs to within the district for infrastructure. And I think as far as healthcare goes, I mean, this is a big issue. This is a big issue, and it's had a lot of arguments on both sides of it. But I think what's important is realizing what your job in Congress is to do when it comes to healthcare. It's not to pass Medicaid expansion. That's a statewide issue. And I hear a lot of people talking about that. It's a statewide issue.

But for me it would be putting pressure on pharmaceutical companies, trying to negotiate prices for pharmaceuticals. Taking an approach, looking at the broad spectrum of this thing, and trying to take an approach which effectively solves the problem. That to me is the most important thing.

Ken Harbaugh:

Do you think you'll get a debate to highlight those issues?

Josh Remillard:

I would love a debate. I mean, as a matter of fact, I mean, when Madison Cawthorn came out and tried to challenge or make fun of Rachel Maddow, we were right there, calling out to every news station that we could and be like, "Hey, look, we want a debate." I mean, you think you're tough, fine. Then let's go. Let's do it. Because I think that people need to hear you in a debate. They need to hear you talk. Because he has a tendency to either not talk or talk only in scripted events, and people need to see him for what he really is.

Ken Harbaugh:

Last question. You think you're going to find time for another Team Rubicon deployment during the campaign?

Josh Remillard:

I've been trying to. You know, it's funny. So back in August, we had some flooding. Tropical depression Fred came through where my house is. There's a river that runs, it's about a hundred feet from my house, the Pigeon River. And it flooded really bad at a lot of places around here. I mean we saw trailers flying down the river. We saw houses and cars and stuff like that flying down the river. And I reached out to Team Rubicon for North Carolina and I was like, "Look, if it's possible, if we're able to do it we can set up in my backyard as sort of a headquarters." But I went around just as I could, just to my neighbors, and I helped out my neighbors as much as I could. I helped try to pull people's cars out of the muck. I helped cut down some trees that were threatening one of my neighbor's houses.

I've sort of given myself over to Team Rubicon, because I love the mission that they're engaged in. I absolutely love it. It continues the mission that we're all sort of institutionalized into. You know, it's service members have a mission to protect our country, and to protect our friends and our family. And what better way to do that than on our personal time, I guess you could say.

Ken Harbaugh:

That's awesome. Well, I hope I see you out there. I'm going to try to get one in this year as well. That's part of my New Year's resolution. Josh, it's been awesome having you on Burn the Boats.

Josh Remillard:

Thank you so much. This has been a pleasure.

Ken Harbaugh:

To learn more about Josh’s time in Iraq, listen to his interview on Warriors in Their Own Words, releasing on February 17th (Now moved to March 3rd).

For more information about his campaign, visit joshremillard.com

You can follow Josh on Twitter and Instagram at @Joshremillardnc, and you can find the rest of his socials in the show description.

Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We’re always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more, follow us on Twitter at @Team_Harbaugh.

And if you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to rate and review.

Thanks to our partner, VoteVets. Their mission is to give a voice to veterans on matters of national security, veterans’ care, and issues that affect the lives of those who have served. VoteVets is backed by more than 700,000 veterans, family members, and their supporters. To learn more, go to VoteVets.org.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.

I’m Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

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