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RFK Jr could be an agent of chaos in a general election

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. poses a threat to both parties. Credit: Getty

October 2, 2023 - 7:00am

Rumours are swirling that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. will announce an independent run for the presidency. A scion of American political royalty, Kennedy is at the same time a political outsider and has struggled to gain traction against Joe Biden in the Democratic primary. Because he scrambles the political map, Kennedy could be a source of chaos in the general election.

Many Democrats still blame Green Party candidate Jill Stein as a factor for Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 win, and the prospect of a third-party challenger haunts Biden allies today. Polls show that even many Democrats have reservations about a Biden reelection effort, citing concerns about his age. In national primary polls, Kennedy has generally scored in the mid-teens or below against Biden, who often leads by more than 50 points. In a close presidential race, even the defection of a small cluster of Democrats could make a difference.

But other polling details could help Democratic strategists sleep a little easier: Kennedy’s approval rating is much higher with Republicans than Democrats. A recent Quinnipiac poll, for instance, gave him a net +30 approval rating among Republicans and a net -43 approval rating among Democrats. A September CNN poll of New Hampshire voters found that only 1% of Democrats in the state would be enthusiastic if Kennedy won the presidency; 80% would be either angry or dissatisfied. Green Party candidate Cornel West, meanwhile, scores much better among progressive voters and may be more of a threat to Biden with this group. 

Even though Kennedy has emphasised many Trumpian themes, his greatest danger to the former president in a hypothetical 2024 general election might not come from the defection of regular Republican voters. GOP sceptics of Trump are based in the centre-right of the party and are unlikely to pull the lever for Kennedy. A Republican voter hostile to the “deep state” and aid to Ukraine wouldn’t need to turn to RFK when DJT is already there. 

Instead, Kennedy could appeal to the alienated and disgruntled independents who have been an important political bloc for Trump. A Suffolk University poll of registered voters who were unlikely to vote favoured Trump over Biden by 32% to 13% — but 18% also said they would support a third-party candidate. 

With its lingering residue of early-Sixties glamour, the Kennedy name has considerable appeal to those on the political margins. A number of QAnon theories rotate around the return of John F. Kennedy, Jr. (sometimes as Trump’s running mate) and even of JFK himself. Robert Kennedy’s eclectic platform — going further than Trump on issues like vaccines — might help cement his standing with those voters. 

At least two unknowns remain. So far, Trump World has been quite warm to Kennedy. What happens if, sensing a threat, the former president turns his fire on him? That could dent Kennedy’s approval among Republican-aligned voters, but it would also be a reversal of Trump’s usual strategic posture (being the outsider against the political mainstream).

An even bigger unknown is the question of ballot access. As the Green Party nominee in 2016, Jill Stein was on the ballot in 44 states plus DC. If he runs as an independent, Kennedy faces much higher logistical hurdles. In many states, he would have to collect tens of thousands of signatures to make it to the general election ballot. In the battleground state of Michigan, for instance, an independent candidate would need to submit 12,000 valid signatures (ranging across at least half of the state’s congressional districts) in order to get on the ballot. In the race for president, political outsiders need to build a massive organisation quickly.


Fred Bauer is a writer from New England.

fredbauerblog

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Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
9 months ago

I’m a huge fan of RFK Jr. I think he is just about the only person now who can arrest our slide into global totalitarian societies, which is so close now.
My cranky views probably contribute to confirmation bias here, but I have been closely following his campaign and watching the reaction, and I see substantial numbers of Republicans, Libertarians and swing voters who would get behind him. I see far less spoken/written support from Democrats, possibly because they don’t want to be tarred as ‘anti-vaxxer’ or somesuch, even though around 20% allegedly back him.
What holds him back from many Republicans is his environmentalism, which he won’t compromise on; fair enough, I admire somebody with principles, but it’s not going to sway hardcore MAGAs, though I’ve seen some begging him to go on Trump’s ticket as VP.
Trump will most definitely turn on him. I’m sure of that.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Some of us are also repelled by his years of heroin addiction, environmental crackpottery, embrace of Hugo Chavez, and generations of his odious family of criminals and degenerates.

Caroline
Caroline
9 months ago


& all other American Political leaders are squeaky clean??

His environmental “crack pottery” is what led industry to clean up their act and stop polluting the Hudson River, he’s done some amazing things for the environment. If that’s crack pottery I’m all for it!

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
9 months ago
Reply to  Caroline

Me, too, Caroline!

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
9 months ago

If my uncle had been violently, publicly murdered when I was 9, and my father when I was 14, I might have disappeared into a booze- or drug-addled hole and never emerged. I admire that RFK, Jr. is open about his drug addiction and had the moral fiber to overcome it.
I more generally admire the Kennedys, who — with all their admittedly substantial personal failings — are a last example of an American family who believed wealth and power come with a responsibility to give back. Joe Jr., Jack and Bobby paid the ultimate price for walking that talk. Nor did their siblings idly sit on their privilege; Teddy’s long life of political service and Eunice’s founding of Special Olympics come to mind. There is nothing like that family’s love of country and commitment to service among today’s wealthy Americans.

Last edited 9 months ago by Colorado UnHerd
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

If you have access to a Daily Wire membership, I encourage you to listen to his talk with Jordan Peterson. He opens up about coming clean, why 12 step programs work, and his relationship with God.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

His opposition to nuclear energy is a deal killer for me.

Nance Ackerman
Nance Ackerman
9 months ago

You need to do your research. Kennedy isn’t spouting Trumpian themes and he isnt only speaking to the fringes – he speaks to disenfranchised left leaning who didn’t buy into the pandemic big Pharma propaganda spoon fed to the US public by the democratic elites through corporate media. He questions corporate power and politics and demands truth in government. I love unHerd but do your homework, I expected more from you.

Last edited 9 months ago by Nance Ackerman
Simon S
Simon S
9 months ago
Reply to  Nance Ackerman

Yes, this was a feeble piece written on the back of an envelope

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
9 months ago

For me and many other disllusioned Democrats, RFK, Jr. is an agent of hope, not chaos. I urge those unfamiliar with him (or familiar only through mainstream media smears) to listen to his speech on peace and diplomacy. He’s intelligent, principled and brave enough to take on the unholy government-corporate alliance that threatens our democracy in public health, environmental protection, foreign policy and other arenas.
Given that the DNC is (contrary to its charter) supporting only Biden and refusing debates, a third-party run is probably Kennedy’s best chance. I think he will appeal to Democrats who reject the party’s capture by wokeism, Republicans averse to Trump, Independents and other Americans who seek a return to principled, sane leadership.

Daniel P
Daniel P
9 months ago

Very very few republicans will vote for RFK even if they like him.

Liking him has nothing to do with voting for him. He may be their favorite democrat but he is still a democrat.

Trump’s base will stick with him no matter what. He could be convicted and they will just be that much more committed to seeing him win.

Then, there are the republicans that just want to cast a vote that gets rid of Biden. They will hold their noses and vote for Trump.

Then, you have the anti-Trump republicans, they MAY vote for an RFK, but in the end, even they see that what has gone on with the online censorship among other democrat moves toward and authoritarian state, and they would likely still see the indictments against Trump as bogus and as political hit jobs that they would believe cannot be allowed to succeed.

No, I think that not only will Trump win the nomination in a landslide, but he will crush it in a general election and RFK will only make the margin of victory larger.

Bill Hendrix
Bill Hendrix
9 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

Mr. Daniel, I am a “Trumpian”. However, I’ve been ready to jettison Trump for quite some time though. Many months ago I stated my opinion that if our Republican Party could not posit anyone better than Trump then I would squarely position myself with Mr. Kennedy.
Mr. Kennedy has my beliefs.
I for one am tired of the rhetoric that our press puts forth. I also believe that our press will continue this path with Mr. Trump.
At least with Mr. Kennedy our press will have to relearn new tactics.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
9 months ago
Reply to  Bill Hendrix

I would be interested to get your thoughts on Vivek Ramaswamy… another agent of chaos, perhaps…