The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Anti-War Activist Mounts GOP Campaign for Congress

I’d like to think that this symbolizes some good old-fashioned traditional conservatism making a comeback in the GOP, said Ron Paul spokesman Jesse Benton.

Kenzo Norman
News
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Dec 18, 2009

Adam Kokesh at an antiwar rally in September 2007 (Flickr: ragessos)
Adam Kokesh at an antiwar rally in September 2007 (Flickr: ragessos)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had barely begun to give his acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention when a clamor went up in the upper levels of St. Paul’s XCel Center. Adam Kokesh, a marine who had become a leader of Iraq Veterans Against the War, stood up and unfurled a banner with two sides. On the first side: “YOU CAN’T WIN AN OCCUPATION.” On the other side: “MCCAIN VOTES AGAINST VETS.”

[GOP1] Security guards went into action and dealt with Kokesh’s banner; an irritated crowd of Republicans chanted “USA” until the banner was removed. McCain moved right on, but Kokesh hadn’t finished yet.

“I’m grateful to the president of the United States for leading us in these dark days following the worst attack in American history,” said McCain.

“Ask McCain why he votes against veterans!” shouted Kokesh.

He didn’t get another chance to rain on McCain’s parade, but Kokesh remained proud of what he did. A video that cut together the interruption with jokes, subtitles, and a pounding soundtrack went up on Kokesh’s YouTube account. It’s still there, even though Kokesh’s relationship to the Republican Party is very different now. He’s a candidate for Congress in New Mexico’s 3rd district, looking like the Republican front-runner just one short year after he crashed the convention. Over the course of a year, he’s made the move from confrontation-seeking anti-war activist to clean-cut politician in the mold of the man he supported in 2008, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

“The ground has really shifted away from the neocon agenda,” Kokesh told TWI during a break in his campaign schedule. “There was no influx of young people getting into the Republican Party to support John McCain. By contrast, Ron Paul brought a huge number of young people into the Republican Party. It’s really exciting to see that happening again with my campaign.”

Kokesh’s move into electoral politics–he is 27 years old, and this is his first stab at campaigning–unifies two trends that have made the GOP that will fight the midterm elections dramatically different than the one Kokesh used to protest. The first is the rise of Ron Paul’s libertarianism. After years of obscurity, Paul came out of the 2008 elections with a national fundraising base and new respect for his ideas about war and economics among Republican activists and voters. The second trend is the Tea Party movement. After feeling ignored by George W. Bush’s Republicans, the conservative base has come together to demand commitment to the Constitution, commitment to small government values, and guarantees of national and state sovereignty.

“He never had an official role in the campaign, but we could count on him to energize people,” said Jesse Benton, Paul’s spokesman. Kokesh was a late addition to Paul’s 2008 “Rally for the Republic,” an event meant to “bring the Republican Party back to its roots” held in Minneapolis before McCain’s address to the RNC in 2008.

“I’d like to think that this symbolizes some good old-fashioned traditional conservatism making a comeback in the GOP,” said Benton. “Republicans have seen that running as the ‘war party’ is a loser for them.”

Today, Kokesh argues that the efforts of Paul supporters look more or less successful. Bush-era “neocons” are out of the political mainstream, replaced by people like him. “Our nation is drifting dangerously from freedom to fascism,” Kokesh said at a July 2008 rally for Paul in Washington, D.C.; at a 2007 Senate hearing, he was photographed holding up a tally of how many times then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had said “I don’t recall.” But rhetoric that sounded out of the mainstream that year sounds perfectly in line with the comments of Republicans like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) or Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), and criticism of the GOP or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are no longer controversial in the party’s grassroots.

“If you want to compare to Washington, yes, I’m a radical extremist,” Kokesh told TWI. “If you want to compare me to normal American values, I’m right in the middle of the road. I’m finding out that the grassroots of both parties are so grossly misrepresented by their representatives in Washington that we have more in common with each other.”

Depending on who’s analyzing the race, New Mexico’s third district is either an ideal or a poorly chosen battlefield for a candidate like Kokesh. It’s the most Democratic-leaning district in the state, having given 61 percent of the vote to the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), the freshman that Kokesh wants to challenge, won his election by 27 points, spending $1.5 million to fend off a Republican who spent only $190,000. One Democratic insider labeled Kokesh as an interesting candidate with an interesting strategy and no chance to win.

“There is almost zero chance this seat will change hands,” said David Wasserman, House race editor of the Cook Political Report, which ranks NM-3 the 133rd bluest seat in America. “It is just too Democratic.”

Still, Democrats and Republicans in the district, with the election 11 months away, expressed some respect for a first-time campaigner (Kokesh is 27 years old) who cleaned up for politics in a hurry. His connections to Ron Paul’s movement have allowed him to raise near $150,000 in a few months since entering the campaign in August.

“He’s an interesting candidate,” said Richard Ellenberg, chairman of the Santa Fe County Democratic Party. “There are some people who surprise me with–I almost want to call it their ‘star-struck’ approach to this campaign. They were star-struck by Obama and they’re star-struck by Kokesh.”

A spokeswoman for the New Mexico Republican Party told TWI that the presence of another candidate in the Republican primary–Tom Mullins, another first-time politician–prevents the party from saying anything more than how its members are “excited to have strong candidates in this district.” But John Otter, a founder of the Green Party of the United States who is the party’s treasurer in Santa Fe, said that Kokesh had a shot at winning over anti-war liberals.

“Personally, I’d vote for him,” said Otter. “I’d be be attracted to someone with a position against the war. Lujan was elected with liberal votes, and he’s just gone with the flow.”

Kokesh’s appeal has a lot to do with the hard-edged activism that launched his career. He has traded in military fatigues for suits and plaid shirts. “I think people have told him that the one-fisted Black Panther salute might not sell anymore,” said Jesse Benton. His message, however, is the same anti-war libertarian populism that used to get him kicked out of buildings.

“You can’t just start chanting ‘End the Fed’ at a GOP county meeting,” said Kokesh. “You have to take a step back and explain this perspective on monetary policy. But what’s so exciting now, in terms of the opportunity presented by this horrible economic situation is that you can start teaching these Austrian economic principles, and all of a sudden they don’t seem so abstract because you can connect them to what’s happening in real life.”

Mullins, who entered the race in October and is running a more traditional Republican campaign, has not chosen to make an issue out of Kokesh’s anti-war activism or argue that his opponent is out of the party mainstream. “I disagree with his characterization of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan as ‘occupations,’” said Mullins. “I think the president made the right decision, and we should finish the job, but to be honest the war doesn’t come up much right now.”

Kokesh agreed with Mullins, after smiling at how his opponent had tried to publicize his own libertarian credentials. (“He’s holding a copy of The Road to Serfdom on his website,” said Kokesh. “Of course, he’s also holding up a copy of Going Rogue.”) Anti-war activists are key to the Kokesh campaign. He received an attention-getting endorsement from former Sen. Mike Gravel, and he’s publicized his support from Tina Richards, a “marine mom” who gained notoriety after a heated 2007 confrontation with Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wisc.) over why Democrats refused to cut off funding for the Iraq War. But the issue that got him to confront John McCain isn’t motivating voters in New Mexico.

“Most of them don’t care, and that’s really sad,” said Kokesh. “It’s not just Republicans, but all voters. The Obama administration is keeping up the Bush policy of keeping Americans isolated from the war.”

But Democrats, even as they write off his chances at a win, say Kokesh’s transition from the anti-war movement to anti-Fed, libertarian populism is coming at a perfect time.

“I think he’s trying to pick up a national mantle, as a national personality in the Ron Paul mode,” said Ellenberg. “I think he’s been successful so far.”

Kenzo Norman | Kenzo is a journalist-turned-marketer who is fascinated by how storytelling and targeted marketing can result in content that changes businesses. He is responsible for implementing inbound marketing strategies that help his clients raise brand awareness, generate leads, and gain new customers as an Account Executive. Jason enjoys reading on the beach, tracking down mono records, and playing guitar when he is not working.

Related

$1.89 billion given to states to fight HIV

The federal government Monday announced more than $1.89 billion in funding to states to fight the HIV epidemic with access to care and with more cash for the failing AIDS Drug Assistance Program. According to an HHS press release , $813 million of that money will go directly to the ADAP programming. An additional $8,386,340 will be issued as a supplement to 36 states and territories currently facing a litany of unmet needs and access issues.

Army Data Shows Constraints on Troop Increase Potential

If President Obama orders an additional 30,000 to 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, he will be deploying practically every available U.S. Army brigade to war, leaving few units in reserve in case of an unforeseen emergency and further stressing a force that has seen repeated combat deployments since 2002.

1. Brian Schweitzer

As governor of Montana, Schweitzer doesn’t represent one of the most highly populated, high-profile electoral states in the country. But this

$1.3 Million for Brown

The GOP’s candidate in the Massachusetts special election raised more than one million dollars -- double the goal -- in a 24-hour moneybomb on the Ron Paul

$1.3 trillion in federal spending unaccounted for, report finds

Despite calls for independent bodies to keep government accountable, the Sunlight Foundation’s most recent Clearspending report has found the federal

#1 in Conspiracy Theories

Andrew Young’s tell-all biography of John Edwards, hitting shelves next week, is surging in one Amazon.com category in particular. #1 in Conspiracy

1 Brigade and 1 Battalion

ISTANBUL – It’s 10 p.m. in the lowest level of the Istanbul airport. In 20 minutes I’ll be allowed to board my plane to Kabul, bringing me to the

$1 Million for Toomey

Pat Toomey, the former Club for Growth president and leading Republican candidate in Pennsylvania’s 2010 Senate race, has announced a $1 million haul in the

1. Lindsey Graham

Sen. Graham (R-S.C.) is typically regarded as a reliable vote for his party, but he took the bold step of breaking with his fellow Republicans to join Kerry

Bachmann uncomfortable over earmarks ban

Republicans appear to have boxed themselves into a corner with their portrayal of earmarks as wasteful spending, as many of them have backed a moratorium on

Troubled mine holds hope for U.S. rare earth industry

China currently controls 97 percent of the world’s rare earth production. The Mountain Pass Mine could change that -- if it can overcome serious environmental concerns.

© Copyright 2021 The Washington Independent All Rights Reserved

Terms & Privacy | twi.news@washingtonindependent.com