Late last night, 88-year-old former senator Mike Gravel started posting tweets. Or, an account under his name did. The tweets, for the most part, were about Gravel running for president, something he has not done since 2008 (he hasn’t been a senator since 1981). They were clear that any candidacy would exist solely for the purposes of pushing the other Democratic candidates to the left on their handling of foreign policy and the military-industrial complex.
That in and of itself is... weird, and kind of cool, but the story gets stranger. Gravel’s account is being run by a “group of students” in Westchester, New York who, as one of them told Splinter in an interview, convinced the former senator to think about running again. This has caused a substantial amount of confusion, as the teens have spent most of the last 24 hours furiously shitposting under Gravel’s name and doing memes with people who were still on Twitter at 1 a.m. last night.
Splinter reached out to the email address on the Gravel campaign/ committee website and heard back shortly after from a high school student named David Oks, who said he was the one behind Gravel’s fire tweets. Oks said the exploratory committee sure is real, and Gravel is on board with it. (Gravel said the same thing to a Politico reporter on Tuesday night.)
Oks, a high school senior who has previously run for mayor of his small New York town, told Splinter that he and several friends are avid listeners of the Chapo Trap House podcast, which mentioned Gravel in a recent episode. About a week ago, he and a couple friends reached out to Gravel and asked if he would consider making another run for president. Their pitch was clear. “My friends and I were encouraging him to consider running for president with the idea being that he would not try to contest any primaries, he would just try to get into the Democratic debates,” he said.
Oks and his friends were clearly inspired by Gravel’s performance in the 2008 debates, where he delivered a searing indictment of the vast majority of his fellow candidates for their support of the Iraq war and their continued commitment to American interventionism in the Middle East.
“Senator Gravel is kinda unique in the fervor of his views on foreign policy,” Oks said, mentioning Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders as other candidates who were outspoken, but could still be moved further left.
“Our goal is to push the rest of the Democratic field toward policies, especially on political reform, climate change, and foreign policy, that, for the first time in decades, will truly challenge the American plutocracy and military-industrial complex,” Gravel’s website reads.
But first they had to convince Gravel to get on board.
“He’s a busy guy, he’s got family life, he’s writing a book,” Oks said. “But we decided we’d start an exploratory committee, and plan a sort of digital-first campaign” involving media appearances from Gravel himself.
Oks said Gravel basically handed over responsibility for the Twitter account and digital campaign, but that they speak a couple times a day and keep in touch about any specific policy issues that the former senator hasn’t commented on (Oks said he’s currently waiting to hear back from the senator on a question about reparations).
“It’s awesome because Senator Gravel is a wonderful, wonderful man,” Oks said. “Talking to him is like talking to few others.”
The exploratory committee’s launch, of course, has been a bit chaotic. Oks said they were looking for a place to make an official announcement in the coming days, but that they didn’t expect this much attention this fast. “We did not expect people to be looking at the FEC filings,” Oks laughed. Gravel still hasn’t fully committed to a run, but Oks said “given the reception that this weird launch has had, things look favorable.”
If he does make his way into the debates, it’ll be a hell of a thing to see.
Update, 11:53 a.m. ET: Oks originally said he was working with Democracy Now on a possible campaign announcement. After this piece was published, he reached out to clarify that he was merely looking at where he could make an official announcement, and had made no arrangements with any outlet.