Speaking at Independence Mall in Philadelphia, PA – the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence – presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced Oct. 9 that he is ditching his Democratic Party bona fides and taking the lonesome road of the independent office seeker. His much-hyped rally had the nation on the edge of its collective seat, wondering whether he would go solo or jump on the Libertarian Party ticket. But the die has now been cast and RFK Jr. has crossed the political Rubicon into waters that few have dared enter, and on the opposite bank sits one all-important question: Who does his independent campaign hurt the most?
Grappling With History
To say that a Kennedy absconding from the Democratic Party represents serious news is most certainly an understatement. For those who yearned for the days of Camelot, RFK on the ballot represented something bigger than party politics, and yet, his unique views on modern America are the very thing that kept him from breaking more than about 20% in Democrat primary polling.
Team RFK advertised the event thusly: “Mr. Kennedy will lay out a path to the White House that involves a major shift in American politics. We invite you to witness history in the making, at the very spot where our founding fathers launched this nation in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence.” And history was, indeed, made. The scion of a legacy party – a party his own family incarnated in its modern form – has decided that his ambition is best served beyond the confines of a two-party process. As Liberty Nation’s Senior Political Analyst Tim Donner commented:
“Whether Robert F. Kennedy Jr. stands a chance of being elected president or not, he certainly serves as a stark reminder to those who lived through the 1960’s of what the Democratic party of his father and uncle was in its heyday. His message of empathy for the dispossessed sounds to some degree like Donald Trump, but almost identical to RFK Jr.’s father during his rapid ascent to the top of the 1968 Democratic presidential field before he, like his brother, was assassinated. His reminder of George Washington’s warning about the danger of political parties might well hit home in a race between two major party candidates most Americans would prefer not to run.”
And here lies the rub. While a majority of Americans would prefer to see neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden on the ballot in November 2024, the voting public will be deep in electoral analysis to figure out if they can cast their vote for the neophyte candidate and risk handing victory to the contender they like least.
An All-American Pitch
With an eager crowd of supporters in front of him, he made an oath to be “a servant only to my conscience, my creator, and you.” It’s a promise made in contrast to what he described as a corrupt, complacent two-party system in which officials’ ultimate loyalty is to their own side. He continued:
“The two major parties are fielding candidates that most Americans do not want even to run. A shocking three-fourths of Americans believe President Biden is too old to govern effectively. President Trump faces multiple civil and criminal trials. Both have favorability ratings deep in negative territory.
“That is what two-party politics has come to, and that is why we need to break the stranglehold of the two parties. And that’s why we need to pry loose the hammerlock of corrupt power over Washington, DC.”
His point about the unfavorable candidates is well made, and, in fact, according to fivethirtyeight.com, he himself has a plus-nine approval – while Biden and Trump are both in negative territory (minus 11 and minus 15, respectively).
The RFK See-Saw
The latest Ipsos/Reuters polling ran the numbers on how various scenarios might play out: “In a hypothetical 2024 matchup, Biden (35%) and Trump (35%) are essentially tied in a 2-way race. In a three-way race between Biden (31%), Trump (33%) and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (14%), Biden and Trump remain too close to call.” And this is, indeed, the message being promoted by the RFK Jr. campaign team: Their candidate will take votes equally from the two main contenders. But just how realistic is that proposition?
Digging deeper into the Ipsos/Reuters survey of 1,000 adults, we see the sample selection is somewhat skewed in Joe Biden’s favor. Democrats accounted for 43% of respondents, Republicans for 36%, and 11% were independents. Most serious pollsters say, however, that independents have made up over 20% of the populace for almost two decades; also, the split between Dems and the GOP has been far more equal in recent years.
During his announcement, Kennedy said that both parties should be worried that he will draw votes from their bases. The question remains, which candidate suffers the bulk of the damage?
The Middle Way?
RFK’s pitch is that the “dispossessed” Americans, those left behind through lack of income, lack of opportunity, lack of health care, should coalesce on his campaign. It is a message that served Donald Trump well in 2016. There is little doubt that disaffected voters will be drawn to the idea of a candidate who offers a path down the center of US politics, but the “middle way” also comes with a repulse factor.
There are some areas where voters do not want the compromise position. From the right, that often includes protecting the Second Amendment and a Pro-Life stance – both fields in which Kennedy has taken a traditionally far-left approach. For the left, his stance on vaccines (especially with regards to COVID) is a polar opposite to the party line. It seems that for each voter who would accept this conciliation, a great deal more would balk at giving up their principles for what appears to be the promise of a peaceful life that a compromise candidate would entail.