“I came to this country from another country, and I struggled. I used to dream about coming to this country as a child, and I probably love this country more than many people who were born here.”
On February 5, 2018, model and actor Antonio Sabàto, Jr., who gained national attention for speaking at the 2016 Republican National Convention, joined Merion West’s Erich Prince to discuss his candidacy for California’s 26th Congressional District, against incumbent Democrat Julia Brownley.
Erich Prince: To start off, I was watching your appearance on Fox News where you discussed your difficulties in finding employment in the entertainment industry following your 2016 speech at the Republican National Convention. Can you walk us through some of the backlash you experienced?
Antonio Sabàto, Jr.: Well, yeah. I was blacklisted. If you support the President, you’re not going to have many fans in Hollywood. There were a few people who hired me on the basis of my talent as an actor, rather than as a politician. And that’s the way it should be.
If you’re not on their side of society, on the liberal side, it becomes a very small world in Hollywood. You won’t have many friends, and that has been challenging. My mother is from Prague in the Czech Republic, and my family there experienced the fascists and the communists. I lost family in Auschwitz during World War II.
I’ve got to tell you, in this country, I’d never known this level of hate and negative feedback if you support this President. I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life. We have to fight for our freedom and all of the things that make this country great. If we don’t, they’re going to take these freedoms away. We can’t let that happen.
Erich: Of course, support for President Trump has been quite low among most entertainers. However, there have been a few other vocal supporters of the President in Hollywood. Jon Voight comes to mind as one example. Was there a a certain bond you experienced among other supports of then-candidate and now-President Trump in Hollywood, given that there were so few of you?
Antonio: We have freedom in this country. We have the Constitution and our amendments, which allow us to express how we feel. That’s the way it should be.
But like I said earlier, we don’t have that freedom anymore, especially in Hollywood.
Jon Voight and Scott Baio and Gary Sinise; these are friends of mine. There are a lot of people, but they’re afraid to speak. They want to keep their jobs. They don’t want to complicate things. I totally understand it.
But we should be free to speak our minds. We should be able to debate and talk about what we feel. This is one of the reasons I jumped into this race. And winning in November is extremely important to me because of all of these things.
Erich: In your speech at the RNC, you talked a little bit about immigration and your experiences as an immigrant yourself. California, as you know, has a very large immigrant population. For our readers, perhaps you could talk a bit more about your views on immigration and your story, given that you came to this country from Italy, and how your stance on immigration might be of particular interest to California voters.
Antonio: We’re spending a hundred billion dollars on immigration each year. That needs to end. It’s not fair to the American people; it’s not fair to the families that are coming here legally. Families like mine, we spent a lot of money – money that we didn’t have – just to come here legally. This has been going on for too long. [Illegal immigrants] have been taking advantage of the taxpayers; they have been taking advantage of this great country.
It is mind-boggling to me that we are even still talking about illegal immigration. We need to close the border and look to reform immigration altogether. We should be putting Americans first, families first, soldiers first, and not illegal immigrants who are coming here to take advantage of our people.
Erich: One issue that is a something of a wedge within the Republican Party, especially between more constitutionally-inclined, Fourth Amendment-concerned Republicans and those Republicans more interested with security first and foremost is the issue of mass surveillance. This includes issues such as extending the PATRIOT Act. If elected to Congress, do you have a sense of where you will come down on this issue of surveillance?
Antonio: I think we have to protect our country at all costs. We need the right to do certain things. Our President has the right to protect this country, and it is the same way in Congress. Members of Congress have an obligation to protect Americans, their families, and to make sure we are safe.
My biggest concern is my county. The farmers in my county are dealing with a lot of regulations. The police force in my county is having a really hard time with not having enough police officers, and it’s not so much about the funding for police, but more about restructuring the police force at a whole different level. We need to work together with the county, city, and state to make sure we are providing everything the American people need.
That goes for our teachers too. I believe in school choice. I believe California is not doing as much as it can for education. We are falling behind; we are falling behind in a lot of ways. We need to do better.
Just think about all the money we are spending. Instead of spending money, we should be conservative and give it back to the people. One thing I’m going to fight against is regulations from the state. They are just overwhelming, and it’s none of [the state’s] business whatsoever.
We live in a wonderful state. We have the sun for twelve months of the year; it’s beautiful. But we need to take advantage of it. California has the most homeless people in the nation. This shouldn’t be happening, but there are a lot of issues and a lot of work to be done. I could go on forever listing things, but ultimately I think I have the right stamina and the right skill set to fix a lot of these things.
Erich: In the minds of many, your candidacy and your positions are very closely tied to the Trump administration. Are there any policy points that the President has been pioneering that you might approach differently?
Antonio: The thing is that right now we need to support our President. I can’t believe there are people who wake up in the morning and wish the worst for the President. I’m not like that.
I want the President to succeed, so that Americans succeed. So far I think he’s doing a great job and I have to give him credit. He’s against both parties. He won a huge election pretty much on his own, in the sense that he was a man by himself, not with a party, but with the American people.
Erich: You’ve alluded to your opponent before. As you know, incumbents in Congress tend to be re-elected at rates greater than 90%. What is the x-factor that you are going to bring to this race to add yourself to that list of those candidates that go on to unseat an incumbent?
Antonio: I came to this country from another country, and I struggled. My family and I love this country very much. I used to dream about coming to this country as a child. I probably love this country more than many people who were born here. The freedom that we have here, and the choices, and the family and children that I have – I am extremely grateful for all of it.
The hard work that I am putting into this campaign and the hard work I am going to be doing in Congress goes beyond what my opponent has done because I think she takes [her office] for granted. She came here and got elected, and nobody knows who she is. Nobody has ever met her. This is the first time that the news and the media are finding out about her. She’s never really been on the air; she’s never really been in the county. You’ve never really heard about her until now.
So yes, she is an incumbent, and she has been winning on money that was mostly raised from the Democratic Party and by getting illegal immigrants to vote for her. That’s how she wins.
I’m going to win on principles. I’m going to win on the fact that I work for the American people, not the other way around. I’m going to get things done because I’m with the people. I’m not coming in here saying I have all the plans or that I know what is best for you. No.
I have been talking with my community for years, and I know what it needs, because the people have told me. I have to get the job done for them. That is what I am all about, and that is why I’m going to win.
Erich: Lastly, which particular traits, which you may have developed during your career in the entertainment industry, do you think will be especially useful to you in Congress, given that your background is a different from many other members of Congress?
Antonio: Meeting people: meeting the fans. I’ve had great fans for over thirty years from all over the world. I believe in being personal with people and really listening to them. I’m not the one who talks all the time and has all the answers. I’m very modest in that sense. I take people’s word seriously, keep in my heart, I believe, and that means everything to me.
I live in this community. My little boy was born here; my kids go to school here. This community is my home. The people know that, and that’s why we’re going to win in November.
Erich: Thank you for your time today, Antonio.