Late last month, Marine Corps veteran Kevin Nicholson announced his campaign to challenge Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin for her seat in the U.S. Senate. This morning, his campaign got a major boost.
John Bolton, long-time Republican leader and former ambassador to the United Nations, has announced that he will endorse Nicholson in the 2018 race and support him financially through his political-action committees.
This endorsement is a major coup for Nicholson’s campaign, and it gives tremendous weight to the candidate’s contention that he is the right choice for Americans concerned about national security: Bolton is one of the Right’s most trusted voices on foreign policy.
“After talking with him several times and talking with many people who know him, I thought Kevin was the perfect choice,” Bolton tells National Review. In a statement this morning, the former ambassador said of Nicholson:
As a highly decorated U.S. Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kevin fundamentally understands what it takes to keep America safe. . . . I know he will strengthen our military to eliminate ISIS and keep our adversaries at bay.
Bolton’s PACs have contributed millions to Republican campaigns over the past few years, particularly to support candidates who he believed would champion U.S. national security. But the Wisconsin Senate campaign marks the first time that Bolton has endorsed a Republican in a competitive primary.
So far, he has limited his involvement to supporting Republicans in general elections against Democratic incumbents. “We have never contested an incumbent Republican, and we have no plans to do that,” Bolton explains.
Part of the urgency in this race stems from how uniquely vulnerable Baldwin will be and how suited Nicholson, in Bolton’s estimation, will be to defeat her. “We think a Republican can certainly win, and it is important to support the strongest candidate on national security who has a realistic chance,” he says.
In particular, Bolton pointed to last year’s upset victories by both Donald Trump and incumbent Republican senator Ron Johnson, who defeated former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold by a much wider margin than was expected. As a result, Bolton thinks Wisconsin is one of the Republican party’s best chances to unseat a weak Democratic senator and help the GOP retain its Senate majority.
Nicholson wasn’t always the staunch conservative that he is today. In fact, he grew up as a Democrat and even served as the national president for the College Democrats of America. But his time working for the Democratic National Committee began a decades-long journey that led him to the Republican party.
“I didn’t like what I saw at the DNC,” he told National Review in July. “I basically witnessed the inception of identity politics. People there were broken apart by the color of their skin or their gender and pitted against each other for resources.”
Nicholson’s experience in the military expedited the disenchantment that he felt at the DNC, and he began to realize how little the Democratic party’s policies coincided with his experiences in the real world. As a captain, he led a unit of Marines on more than 100 combat missions in Iraq, and he earned the Navy Achievement Medal as a result.
‘Nicholson is very strong from our perspective on national security, and Baldwin is particularly weak, especially given her support of the Iran Deal,’ Bolton says.
Then, from 2008 to 2009, he served in Afghanistan as the leader of a counter-IED (improvised explosive device) team and earned the Bronze Star for his work. It is this on-the-ground military experience that gives Bolton confidence in Nicholson’s deep understanding of national security and foreign policy.
“Obama and leaders like Tammy Baldwin threw our progress in Iraq away. Irresponsibly pulling out in the way they did has led to problems like what we see with ISIS today,” Nicholson told National Review last month, adding:
As a leader, you have to send people in with a clear mission and give them the resources they need to win if you’re going to put them in harm’s way and have a plan to get them out and a plan to take care of them when they get home to their families.
“Nicholson is very strong from our perspective on national security, and Baldwin is particularly weak, especially given her support of the Iran Deal,” Bolton says. “Today we’re very focused on North Korea, but I think Iran and North Korea are conceptually and strategically linked, and weakness on these issues is something voters don’t want to see.”
To reach the Senate, Nicholson must convince Americans that his life experience, especially his time as a military leader, makes him the right man for the job. With Bolton’s endorsement today, making that case became much easier.
— Alexandra DeSanctis is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.