This CMC Alum Is Running For, and Against, the Presidency

Author and political activist Adam Kokesh CM ’05 speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore on Flickr.)

Claremont McKenna College alumnus Adam Kokesh CM '05 recently announced his candidacy for the 2020 United States presidential election.

“It’s more accurate to say I’m running for Not President than for president because I’m running against the presidency itself,” Kokesh said in an interview with TSL. “I believe that it shouldn’t even exist as an office."

“My platform is the complete, orderly, responsible, dissolution of the entire United States federal government,” he added. “That means that every agency will either be liquidated, localized, or liberated."

"Localization means some agencies will just become broken up into 50+ state agencies," Kokesh explained. "Some agencies will be liquidated, like the IRS: there’s no need for it to exist if there’s no federal government to fund. I’m basically going in as a bankruptcy agent, or a trustee, declaring that this institution should no longer exist, and is immediately of no authority: we do this with a single executive order where I resign.”

Kokesh announced his upcoming presidential run while on tour for his book, "FREEDOM!," released in 2014, which explains the philosophies behind his libertarian beliefs.

At 35, Kokesh is one of the youngest people to ever run for president. But as a veteran, activist, and author, he believes he has the potential to champion the movement to dissolve the federal government.

While attending CMC, Kokesh was involved in the 5C libertarian club and wrote for The Claremont Independent, a right-leaning independent student publication. He cites CMC government professor John Pitney for imbuing him with a passion for politics and engaging him in intense political debate as a student.

Pitney, who still teaches at CMC, recalls Kokesh as an active participant in his government class.

“Kokesh is a man of conviction and courage, willing to stand up for his beliefs even when he has to pay a steep personal price,” Pitney wrote in an email to TSL. “He has a passion for freedom, and a skepticism about government control.”

As a former philosophy major, Kokesh is passionate about the ethical philosophies that define the Libertarian party.

“Libertarianism is a philosophy of ethics based on self-ownership: you own yourself, therefore the non-aggression principle is the foundation for ethics,” he said. ”It is wrong to initiate force or violence against another human being, which leads us to the philosophical conclusion of voluntaryism, which is that all human relations should be voluntary, free of force and fraud and coercion.”.

After graduating from CMC, Adam Kokesh enrolled in graduate school at George Washington University and became increasingly involved in political movements based in Washington, D.C., especially the advocacy group Iraq Veterans Against the War. Joining this group kickstarted his activism and helped shape his libertarian ideals.

“While I was at CMC, it was an important time for me in developing my world view but it was still very much for me in the realm of traditional politics,” he said. “It wasn’t until I joined Iraq Veterans Against the War that I started having intense conversations with people who I loved, people who I worked with and got arrested with, and it wasn’t until I started to have intense disagreements about politics that lead me to seek philosophical consistency with my worldview.”

After being arrested in 2013 for civil disobedience, Kokesh began writing his book for which he is currently on tour.

For now, Kokesh’s biggest challenge is gaining enough of a public platform to defend his philosophies. As a third-party candidate, Kokesh will have to work to increase his name recognition and grow his campaign funds.

“I’ve had a TV show, I’ve had a radio show, I’ve had a successful YouTube channel with over 70 million views, and I know that’s not the same scale of [name] recognition [as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton], but … I represent a huge opportunity to increase the exposure of the Libertarian party by using the name recognition I already have,” he said.

For now, he hopes to inspire current 5C students to become involved in political debate and to question the established government.

“I want to tell people who are in school right now, who are engaged in politics or government studies, who are trying to improve the world, [that] we live in a time of radically accelerating change, and if there is any single institution we can point to that is holding us back to that, it’s government,” Kokesh said.

Pomona College politics professor David Menefee-Libey said Kokesh's unlikely campaign is not unusual.

"There is a long history in the U.S. of no-hope presidential candidates running to make some kind of a statement," he wrote in an email to TSL. "They range from comedians like Pat Paulsen in 1968 to programmatic individuals like Evan McMullin in 2016."

"I don’t really have a comment on the particulars of his 'plan,'" Menefee-Libey added. "It doesn’t seem any more unreasonable than a lot of things that are actually happening right now."