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How RFK Jr. Changed the Contours of the 2024 Election – Again

His choice for running mate answers many a question.

In the full year since he first emerged onto the national stage as the biggest political wildcard since Ross Perot, it was first assumed that Robert F Kennedy Jr. was likely to draw votes away from Joe Biden in the Democratic primary and weaken the incumbent for the fall campaign. But after RFK Jr. switched from Democrat to independent, the contours of the race changed, based on the notion that he might draw votes from both major party candidates in November, perhaps in equal measure. Then came the late March announcement of Kennedy’s running mate – and suddenly, everything changed again.

Kennedy had an open, unlimited field of known and unknowns from which to select his vice presidential choice. As an independent candidate without a party structure to involve itself in the selection, he was free to head in any number of possible directions. For example, he could have chosen another relatively centrist – and attractive – Democratic defector in Tulsi Gabbard. He could have gone the route of the No Labels party and picked someone identified with the middle, in the image of a Joe Manchin. Or he could have decided on celebrity for celebrity’s sake and chosen New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose name was floated likely for the sole purpose of its shock value. Any of those choices would undoubtedly be somewhat attractive to skeptical, non-ideological voters seeking an alternative to Trump and Biden.

Instead, the 70-year-old son of the martyred senator and scion of the nation’s most famed political family did something few had expected. He tacked heavily left and selected a woman who not only is virtually unknown but has unambiguously identified herself as a committed leftist. One could hardly be more clear than calling yourself, as Nicole Shanahan has, a “progressive through and through.” Shanahan was familiar to those in the jet-set world of Silicon Valley, to be sure – but not to anyone else.  All you need know is that she donated $700,000 to support Measure J, a post-George Floyd Los Angeles County criminal justice initiative that defunded law enforcement and diverted local revenue to “alternatives to incarceration,” as per the New York Post. She also gave $150,000 to support the infamous George Gascón’s 2020 bid for Los Angeles district attorney and contributed $25,000 to Joe Biden’s 2020 victory fund.

New banner Memo - From the Desk of Senior Political Analyst Tim Donner 1But the most revealing contribution by Ms. Shanahan was $4 million to the RFK Jr. SuperPac. Is her selection all about money? Is the VP slot a reward for the millions she has already donated, or more about the promise of much more to come from Shanahan, ex-wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose net worth is an estimated $95 billion? And if this decision is only about the Benjamins, what does it say to voters about Kennedy’s priorities and financial capacity to run a competitive campaign? He knows he is not going to win the presidency – his support has crested at roughly 15% in recent polls – so the vice presidential choice is about as big a statement as an independent candidate can make. And this one was, if not big, certainly clarifying.

Consequently, Democrats are freaking out now that, in the opinion of most though not all professional Democrats, RFK Jr. will almost certainly draw more votes from Biden than from Trump. In 2016 and 2020, less than 50,000 votes in three states swung the election, so Kennedy pulling even five percent of the vote – assuming he gets on enough states’ ballots – could well be decisive one way or another. Even as his name is synonymous with Democratic politics over decades, talk of Kennedy being a plant or stalking horse for Trump has risen to just beneath the surface in leftist circles. Seriously.

Indeed, one of the weirdest political eras of all time just got weirder.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – Now We Know

Consider the position of moderate independents – including the critical voting bloc of suburban women – and Republicans skeptical of Trump’s chances, animated by post-January 6 jitters about the upcoming election. Many in both camps have, over these last months, expressed admiration, if not outright support, for RFK’s outside-the-box thinking on many issues, most prominently regarding vaccines. Are those up-for-grabs voters likely to support a ticket that now includes a progressive with a similar worldview to Joe Biden? For so many who have been trying to unlock the mystery of Kennedy’s appeal and support base, the selection of a progressive hi-tech Californian to serve one heartbeat away from the president answers many a question about Kennedy’s true beliefs.

Perhaps Kennedy’s goal all along was to reform and return the Democratic party to its halcyon days of political dominance, when the standard issues of war and peace and the economy were prevalent. Instead, the election is animated by discussion about the confusion over Transgender Day of Visibility and Easter, or the right of a 12-year-old to change genders without parental approval, or whether we should ban gas-powered cars and stoves, and willingly turn the demand for more energy production over to Marxist Venezuela.

This new-look Kennedy campaign has Democrats reeling – or most of them, anyway. Clinton-era provocateur Paul Begala, in a Politico article entitled “RFK Jr.’s VP pick is a missile aimed at Biden,” regrets the selection of an established progressive and laments that “Kennedy’s name couldn’t be more blue if it were Democrat McDonkeyface.” He then put it all in perspective by asking, “Put the shoe on the other foot: Would a third party candidate named Trump or Reagan have instant appeal with Republicans?”

Ever the fly in the Democratic ointment, the colorful James Carville, currently under fire among progressives for his remarks about “preachy females,” begged to differ from conventional wisdom: “I actually think Bobby Kennedy might hurt Trump more,” Carville told MSNBC, based on a factor that only he could effectively articulate: “I think there’s a certain percent of people in our country that are just like, ‘Just F the whole thing,’ and Biden is not gonna get any of the ‘F it all’ vote, OK?” he said. “Now what worries me is Cornel West and Jill Stein, because they’re going to get some of the ‘F it all’ vote, too.”. But as is often the case these days, Carville clearly represents a minority, contrarian view within the Democratic party.

So, whether Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is actually a full-on progressive, a leftist wolf in moderate sheep’s clothing, or a principled candidate desperate for funding, he has shown his cards in the eyes of the voters, and is now seen as a clear liberal/leftist alternative to Joe Biden. This means it is now four progressives versus one conservative in the race for the White House. It is not difficult to do the math and realize Robert F. Kennedy’s pivotal decision to go left could turn into Joe Biden’s worst nightmare.

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