Halfway through his 2-minute “Why I’m a Republican” remarks, he addressed what he called the “elephant in the room.”
Qudrat, challenging Democratic Rep. Scott Peters in San Diego’s 52nd District, told fellow veterans: “I’m an American Muslim, and I’ve dedicated my life to destroying radical Islamic terrorism.”
He drew laughter after saying “It’s OK to say ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ … If anyone gives you any problem, tell them you have a friend named Omar who says that it’s OK.”
But after referring to the fight against ISIS as “black-and-white stuff,” the former Defense Department prosecutor began describing “gray wars.”
Qudrat said organizations that portray themselves as advocacy or human rights groups are “weaponizing our Constitution against itself.” And he took a shot at the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, which calls itself America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group.
“We have a real domestic (war) on radical Islamic terrorism,” Qudrat said at a small veterans-outreach meeting at the San Diego Sheraton Hotel and Marina on Harbor Island. “The use of organizations [like] CAIR, led by somebody who openly supports terrorist networks.”
Ironically, less than a week ago Qudrat was himself being accused of courting terrorists.
Posting on combatveteransforcongress.org, Capt. Joseph R. John assailed county GOP Chairman Tony Krvaric for backing Qudrat instead of his group’s choice in the 52nd Congressional District — retired Army Sgt. Daniel Casara.
Krvaric, John said, promoted the nomination of Qudrat, “who is also being promoted by supporters of the [Muslim Brotherhood] and CAIR.”
John said Qudrat, an Army Reserve officer, has an office soliciting donations in all 50 states from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni group often labeled a terror organization.
This isn’t what Qudrat signed up for.
After growing up in Los Angeles, the son of 1970s Afghanistan immigrants, Qudrat earned law and master’s degrees at Syracuse University and eventually became a Pentagon civilian attorney in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force.
“I was a political adviser to the NATO ambassador,” he told Times of San Diego in an interview. “I know how multilevel diplomacy works in NATO. I also know how our enemies operate.”
And having sat through a 90-minute PowerPoint and #LeadRight pep talk Friday — hurriedly given by former Scott Sherman council aide John Staab along with Republican National Committee staffer Chad Longell — Qudrat knew more about how to recruit, motivate and organize campaign volunteers.
But Qudrat, who has raised $255,000 as of March 31 (and spent $194,00), also has five Republican rivals in the race for a likely November runoff with Peters.
Potentially the first Muslim-American Republican in Congress, he prefers not to talk about his faith. Instead, he focuses on his campaign themes and critique of Peters.
He said he learned a few things in the afternoon session attended by 30 veterans, spouses and a few other candidates — “commonsense ways to connect with people and make sure you’re effective.”
“That was such a relevant room to be in today,” Qudrat said. “In San Diego, we have the second-largest homeless veteran population in the nation. San Diego is real Ground Zero for the failures of our government to take care of our veterans.”
Asked why he didn’t tackle the issue by seeking an office closer to home, Qudrat said service members are the “responsibility of the federal government. Period.”
He accused Peters of “hiding behind” county supervisors, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the San Diego City Council on the homeless issue.
“This is the most revealing aspect of who Scott Peters is and why I’m running,” he said. “Walk around the streets of San Diego — look at this domestic humanitarian crisis regarding our veterans.”
Peters, he said, has done “absolutely nothing to address this issue.”
How is he better than his main GOP rivals — Michael Allman, James Veltmeyer and John Horst?
“It just comes down to life experience,” he said. “I’ve lived the failed policies that I’m running against. I’ll just put it this way: Every single national issue has affected me and my family personally.”
He says he went through a failed K-12 education system in Southern California and graduated with kids who, “without exaggeration, were illiterate. … I didn’t come to my political philosophy drinking organic coffee by the beach.”
Qudrat steers clear of directly criticizing President Trump over his promised border wall.
“Everyone is getting distracted with the word ‘wall,’” he said at a Starbucks on Sheraton’s premises. “What we’re asking for — most Americans — is simply a border. Our nation should not be the only nation that’s not allowed to have a border. And it’s got to be a secure border.”
Calling it a national security issue first, he said America can learn from countries like Israel, “where it’s a multilayered system. It’s not as simple as a wall.”
But don’t Trump’s supporters expect him to deliver on the wall promise?
“I think you’re wrong,” Qudrat said. “I think there are a number of different prototypes and a number of different options that are being reviewed right now. … You’re talking about materials. You’re talking about tactical level. The objective is that the United States has a secure border.”
Qudrat recruited a remark by Trump’s White House chief of staff.
“General [John] Kelly has stated publicly that it’s going to take more than a wall in order for us to have the proper appropriate system for us to achieve our objective,” Qudrat said.
Qudrat also objects to conventional wisdom that a “Blue Wave” — Democratic electoral dominance — is a certainty.
“This Blue Wave myth has already been demystified,” he said, citing generic ballot tests in the 52nd District (“Democrats are under 50 percent”) and elsewhere. He calls such predictions “hashtags and mythical concepts” or distractions.
But won’t Trump fatigue hurt GOP odds?
Qudrat says the “scoreboard” of Trump’s achievements will count for more.
“What is the GDP? Is the GDP growing? Are veterans being taken care of better? Is ISIS nearly militarily destroyed?” he asked. “Is our military getting stronger? Do we have unemployment that’s going down?”
He said the answers, so far, are “basically yes. And it’s going to be difficult for [Peters] to try to argue against what could be working.”
Qudrat said Peters will run against Trump and attack the motives of Republicans — “call them racists, call them bigots, call them reckless, and then we’re not talking about policies anymore. We’re just igniting emotions.”
But he said it’s going to be hard for Peters to portray the son of Afghanistan immigrants as a bigot.
“They’re going to have a hard time doing that with me,” he said. “I’m going to be able to connect with Democrats who are open to having a conversation and independents because I share their concerns and I share their experiences. It’s country over party is what we all got to think about.”
Despite the elephant comment, Qudrat doesn’t think a GOP Muslim defeating Peters would be jumbo news.
“I think you’re absolutely wrong that my religion is going to be a lead in any article or any coverage,” he said. “People are smarter than that. No. 1, I’m American. Period. I was born and raised in this country. No. 2, I have taken an oath to the Constitution as a service member and an officer in the Army Reserve. … Full stop.”
But he acknowledges he can leverage his minority status.
“I want, and will be able to, connect with anyone of any party or socioeconomic demographic because I can talk about our shared experiences, and our shared obstacles growing up, and what our families faced,” he said. “That’s ultimately what it come down to.”