When Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced his candidacy for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination on April 19, the party and incumbent president Joe Biden mostly pretended to not even notice.
Aside from a few lazy (but not always meritless) hit pieces on his positions (especially where vaccines are concerned) and public gaffes (COVID-19 something something Jews something) it mostly came down in implementation to a false belief we most often attribute to small children: If you can’t see it, it can’t see you, so try very hard not to see it.
That policy extended even to denying Secret Service protection to RFK Jr. — whose uncle and father were both assassinated in the 1960s — even after what looked an awful lot like an assassination attempt in mid-September.
Republicans mostly assumed his campaign would weaken Biden and the Democrats next November, at least to the extent that he could get any attention.
But things change, and they’re changing now. A PAC associated with RFK Jr.’s campaign is polling on his possible strength as an independent, the New York Times reports that he met with the chair of the Libertarian Party’s national committee in July, and the candidate himself has scheduled an event with an “historic announcement” for October 9 in Philadelphia.
Suddenly, his visibility registers with both “major party” establishments as an emergency. As an independent or third party candidate, he’s a potential “spoiler” who may “cost” either Joe Biden or Donald Trump the 2024 presidential election.
I’m unsympathetic to “spoiler” whining in general, for two reasons.
First, your vote belongs to you, not to Joe Biden or Donald Trump. It’s yours until you cast it for someone, and you owe it to no one.
Second, additional candidates making it harder on either or both of the “Big Two” is a feature, not a bug. When there are only two candidates, they each campaign to their respective “bases” while trying to swing a tiny sliver of “swing voters” who may not like either candidate very much but are constrained to pick one. A third option (or more) makes them work harder to EARN votes instead of just receiving them by default.
Both Democrats and Republicans are suddenly scared to death that RFK Jr. will knock down 5-10% of the vote in key states, upsetting the electoral vote apple cart. Good — they should be scared, and having them scared is better for all of us.
In my view, the Republicans should be more worried than the Democrats. RFK Jr.’s views on the COVID-19 lockdowns and vaccine mandates are closer to those of Trump’s “base” than Trump’s actions as president were, and a significant percentage of that “base” may be single-issue voters in 2024.
On the other hand, if there’s any way for Biden to lose support from Democratic voters, it’s for someone named “Kennedy” to get assassinated on the campaign trail after the administration leaves him unprotected by the Secret Service.
Either way, while I do not support RFK Jr.’s candidacy, I think it’s good for America.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.