How Robert Kennedy Jr could impact the Presidential Race


Photo Credit: Facebook/Robert Kennedy Jr

The battle for the White House will be determined in less than six months. While presidential campaigns once kicked off on Labour Day, the advent of social media, ceaseless news cycles, and talk radio have contributed to longer campaigns and more intense efforts to get news coverage. In 2024, there is also the unusual prospect of the incumbent president facing off against the former president in the first ex-president campaign since 1892. On top of the prospect of two elderly men swapping insults on the campaign trail, three other independent candidates are working to get their names on as many state ballots as possible. If that does not confuse the average voter enough one of the independent candidates is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a man whose family once defined what it was to be a Democrat. Kennedy has already successfully been placed on several state ballots and hopes to get on all fifty states before voting starts this fall. Whether Kennedy can make a difference, win any electoral votes, or shine attention on the issues of importance to him and his followers is one thing. Whoever Kennedy takes the most votes from may be the more important question. 

Having long ago established the rationale for his campaign, Kennedy today speaks about his vision for America as one that hearkens back to a more traditionally constitutional one, especially regarding foreign policy. He also expresses deep concern about entitlements and the out-of-control increases that threaten America’s ability to meet its financial commitments to citizens at home. Kennedy also has strong opinions about the environment and believes the nation must remain vigilant about new technology before it lays waste to protected and cherished freedoms. With these issues in mind and looking at his family history, why is Robert F. Kennedy not running as a Democrat, or more importantly, now that Joe Biden has the nomination wrapped up, why doesn’t he simply support Biden for re-election? 

In a recent interview with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, RFK, Jr. explained that he believes the Democratic Party has departed from many of its core values. He argued that if he made a checklist of the top twenty policy priorities of his father or uncle he could check every box. As he replied to Shapiro’s inquiry, “And, you know, I’m kind of a traditional Kennedy Democrat, traditional liberal, I believe in free speech, I believe in the Consitution of the United States, I believe that corporations should not dominate our government. I incline to be against war and very suspicious of the rise of the military-industrial complex.” He spoke passionately of his commitment to environmental justice and his strong opposition to what he called the party’s abandonment of the middle class, which when he was growing up included cops, firefighters, factory workers, and teachers. Today, he insists, the party has become too cozy with Wall Street, Big Pharma’s party, and military equipment producers. The message does not sound entirely dissimilar to the other populist in the race, the former president. This crossover appeal makes the race, six months out, very much in doubt, leaving many to wonder if RFK, Jr. could end up hurting the Republican in the race more than the Democrat, confounding conventional wisdom. What do the latest polls tell us?  

Polling as high as 16% in some polls, RFK, Jr. could pose a threat to either Trump or Biden, depending on the issue and the state. What remains undefined creates an unsettled feeling about the race and uncertainty for both leading party candidates. In an Emerson College/The Hill poll released at the end of April, Kennedy hurt Biden’s chances in five battleground states that will likely determine the election. According to Gabe Whisnant, writing for Newsweek Magazine,  “Biden is trailing Trump marginally in the states of Arizona (48 percent to 44 percent), Georgia (47 percent to 44 percent), Michigan (45 percent to 44 percent), Nevada (45 percent to 44 percent), North Carolina (47 percent to 42 percent), Pennsylvania (47 percent to 45 percent) and Wisconsin (47 percent to 45 percent) in a two-person race. When third-party candidates such as RFK Jr. are included, the poll revealed that more support is pulled away from Biden than from Trump in the states of Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, support is drawn evenly from each candidate in the states of Arizona and Michigan.” On the other hand, US News and World Report recently reported that Kennedy, “A lifelong Democrat turned independent, his environmentalist background and legacy last name could pull Democrats from Biden. But the noted vaccine skeptic who has publicly advanced several conspiracy theories could very well appeal to members of the same anti-establishment faction that have thus far cast their lot with Trump.” National polls show Kennedy taking more votes from Trump than Biden in some cases. This probably explains why Trump went after Kennedy recently, calling out the Kennedy scion on his Truth Social forum, saying, “A Vote for Junior’ would essentially be a WASTED PROTEST VOTE, that could swing either way, but would only swing against the Democrats if Republicans knew the true story about him.” In response, Kennedy called Trump unhinged and proposed a scenario that could only come from a Hollywood director. Using numbers from a campaign-commissioned survey, Kennedy built the case that he alone can beat Trump. In conclusion, if polls taken in October show Kennedy in a better position than Biden to defeat Trump, Biden should drop out so the real Democrat in the race can win. The Kennedys have never been short on hubris, but if they think the nominee of the Democratic Party would entertain the thought of leaving the presidential race in mid-October that worm in his brain did a lot more damage than claimed. https://nationalpost.com/news/robert-f-kennedy-jr-brain-worm

RFK, Jr. faces tremendous obstacles in even getting on ballots. The estimated cost of getting enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in all fifty states is $15 million. Kennedy calls this a “massive” challenge the two major parties do not face. US News reports, “In battleground states, the states where he can have the most impact, Kennedy faces short signature-collection windows, early deadlines and high signature quotas. For example, an independent candidate in Michigan needs a minimum of 12,000 signatures. Of those signatures, at least 100 must be from at least half of the congressional districts in the state. The signatures also must be less than 180 days old.” For Kennedy to make serious inroads he will need a lot of help in the form of workers, supporters, money, and luck. A series of events will determine how this plays out. First, no one knows the impact of the Trump trials. Will they eventually hurt the former president or could they help him? Second, the war in Gaza continues to foil Biden. His foreign policy record, already in the disaster zone, could threaten his chances, especially if it upends the Chicago Democratic Convention this summer. Thirdly, we all pray for RFK, Jr.’s safety but his father and uncle died because of the presidency and there are a lot of crazy people in America with guns, ones who are very agitated about the state of the country and its role in global conflicts. Beyond that, the ability of a third-party candidate to get on ballots, the pressure he will face to stand down from his family and Democratic officials could become overwhelming. Right now he has a valid role as spoiler, we just don’t know to whom and we don’t know if that will serve as a satisfying reason to put his family through a protracted political marathon or himself in the bull’s-eye of some maniac intent on killing another Kennedy. The next six months will decide how large a part a different generation of Kennedys has in presidential politics.    

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