On August 17, Air Force veteran Chris Keniston was formally declared the first official presidential candidate of the Veterans Party of America. However, few people have likely heard of Keniston or the Veterans Party, founded in 2013, since not a single major news outlet covered the event.
Yet for Keniston, this wasn't unexpected.
"I don't expect any assistance from the mainstream media at all," Keniston said in an interview for IVN. "I truly expect that if I'm ever mentioned on a mainstream media source, it's going to be negative or dismissive, because I understand how invested mainstream media is in the two-party system."
Along with his running mate, Deacon Taylor, an Army veteran and businessman, Keniston has yet to appear on a single national poll, yet he acknowledges that the campaign is more of a means of providing support for other party candidates to contest state and local elections.
"The Veterans Party was never established to take the presidency," Keniston remarked. "I am the bright and shining tip of an enormous iceberg that no one has even seen yet. We have hundreds of candidates ready. We are going after the major parties at the state level, at the local level, and at the federal level. We are going to confront them everywhere."Keniston's campaign has mostly struck a centrist tone aimed at highlighting the problems with the current two-party system. Keniston advocates for electoral reform in order to open the door for third party candidates to win elections at all levels of government.
With a right-of-center economic platform and a centrist social platform, Keniston's biggest concern is how "blatantly unconstitutional" he believes the government has become.
"In the laws it passes and the behavior it displays, our constitutional liberties have been encroached at an alarming and increasing rate," Keniston said. "That is probably what has propelled me to make this decision and step forward and represent my party, because I'm deeply concerned that if we don't do something to put a rein on the government, they are just going to further and further infringe on it."
The Veterans Party was started in 2013 in response to a budget approved by the Senate that cut military members' benefits. Keniston, who was in Lousiana at the time, then stumbled upon the Veterans Party.
"The name was interesting, but I had the initial concern that everyone had, which was, 'Okay, this is just a veterans-centric party,'" Keniston said. "But I did some research over it, read over their platform, and came to understand that it was far more comprehensive than expected."
Keniston, impressed with what he saw, reached out to members of the party's national leadership. Since Louisiana lacked an active state Veterans Party, the leadership asked if he could spearhead the effort to start one there. Keniston ended up serving as the chairman of the Louisiana Veterans Party from February 2015 to June 2015. After that, he moved to Texas for a higher national party position, eventually becoming the national secretary of the party.
Yet Keniston had no idea he was about to become the party's first presidential candidate when he moved to Texas.
"We vetted upwards of two dozen different candidates for president," Keniston explained. "Either they were people with their own agendas and were looking to use our stage as their platform or we had people who had some other agenda than trying to be a public servant. Inevitably, we couldn't find someone from outside the party who truly represented us well."
With no outside options available, the national leadership put out a call to the party to see if anyone would step up.
"At first no one volunteered," Keniston said. "I put a lot of thought into it -- really did a hard self evaluation. By the time I was finished, the only question I had remaining that was unanswered was, "Why not me?""
Keniston volunteered and after being put through the vetting and interview process, was surprised to see that they would accept him as their first presidential candidate.
Inarguably, the largest challenge Keniston faces is the lack of attention from mainstream news outlets. With almost no one paying attention, the Keniston campaign is almost invisible in the nation's current presidential race.
"I'm going to have to make significant social impact before anyone in the mainstream media pays any attention to me," said Keniston. "I have an awful long way to go before I worry about that."
Keniston will have to rely on more unconventional methods in order to gain support, such as online engagement that is decidedly more personal and genuine.
"If people go to my campaign website, the posts that they are reading are from me," Keniston explained. "I don't let anybody else write for me. And I respond. If they leave a comment, if they leave a concern, I answer it. That takes people by surprise."
Ironically, the lack of media attention means that Keniston's privacy and personal life face little public scrutiny, meaning that, at least for now, the usual stresses and negativity of national politics don't exactly apply to him.
"I can still go to Walmart and nobody bothers me," said Keniston. "That's the measure my privacy has been invaded so far. So far it's been fairly quiet and I appreciate that."
Photo Source: Chris Keniston's Twitter page