Tuesday, October 10, 2023


Robert Kennedy Jr. announced yesterday that he's abandoning the Democratic presidential race in order to run as an independent. No one's really sure which of the major-party candidates he could hurt more, but only the Republicans seem to think he needs to be attacked now. The Atlantic reports:
All year long, mainstream Democrats have tried to pretend that Kennedy simply doesn’t exist, with mixed results. Both the Biden campaign and the DNC declined to comment today on Kennedy’s switch. The RNC, for its part, blasted out a list of “23 Reasons to Oppose RFK Jr.,” and reports have been circulating that Trump's allies are preparing to pummel Kennedy with opposition research.
The Washington Post has more on those GOP attacks:
The Republican National Committee greeted his announcement with a press release that described Kennedy as “just another radical, far-left Democrat,” with a number of talking points that could be used by the expansive network of conservative commentators who tend to take messaging cues from the party.

“Make no mistake — a Democrat in Independent’s clothing is still a Democrat. RFK Jr. cannot hide from his record of endorsing Hillary, supporting the Green New Deal, fighting against the Keystone Pipeline, and praising AOC’s tax hikes — he is your typical elitist liberal and voters won’t be fooled,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for former president Donald Trump’s campaign, echoed the condemnation. “Voters should not be deceived by anyone who pretends to have conservative values,” Cheung said in a statement. An “RFK candidacy is nothing more than a vanity project for a liberal Kennedy to cash in on his family’s name.”
Republicans don't waste time -- they go after anyone they perceive as a threat, and they do it early. I talked about this yesterday in the context of attacks on Gretchen Whitmer, who probably isn't a threat to the GOP until 2028 at the earliest. But in the case of Kennedy, maybe Democrats are wise to wait.

It's not clear how many state ballots Kennedy's name will appear on. For now he's running as a pure independent, although, as an NBC story noted a couple of days ago, he might be a decent fit for the Green Party now that Cornel West has broken ties with the party, and he's had discussions with the Libertarian Party. Affiliating with either of these parties would make it much easier for him to get on ballots in most or all of the states. But if he doesn't, or he joins forces with the relatively new People's Party (the horseshoe-left party West originally affiliated himself with), he might not be on very many ballots.

Also, right-leaning voters -- even the ones who aren't engaged GOP or Trump partisans -- tend to be much more obsessed with politics, in and out of campaign season, than less engaged liberal and moderate voters. There are probably quite a few voters Trump could lose to Kennedy in 2024 who watch Fox regularly and are obsessed with all of Fox's rage subjects. But comparable Democrat-leaners are often out of touch with politics until close to election time. So it might be appropriate for Republicans to dispense anti-Kennedy talking points now, while Democrats might be wise to ignore Kennedy for now.

A No Labels candidate will almost certainly be running next year in addition to Kennedy and West. The Post story tells us:
Each of the independent campaigns will need to consistently register 15 percent support in national polls to qualify for the general-election debates next year, under the rules of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is planning to host the contests. The Republican and Democratic nominees typically attend those forums, though no agreements have been struck for 2024 so far.
Yes, but the Republicans quit the Commission on Presidential Debates last year, which means there won't be an established debate process that has GOP buy-in. Donald Trump will probably want to avoid debates the way he's been avoiding them in the primaries. (I assume he'll disguise this preference with a set of unrealistic demands, while accusing President Biden of being the one who wants to avoid debates.) Kennedy, if his campaign still seems semi-viable, will undoubtedly demand debates, as he demanded them during his time as a Democratic candidate, and he'll accuse Biden and Trump of trying to suppress his campaign. No Labels will probably also demand debates, and so will Cornel West, even though, in all likelihood, all the minor-party candidates will be polling in the single digits. My guess is that there won't be any general election debates next year, the major roadblock being Trump and the GOP, while No Labels and Kennedy (and possibly West) campaign as victims of censorship as a result.

I don't know how this will all play out in the general election. The People's Party recently commissioned a YouGov poll that showed Trump beating Biden 45%-44% in a race against Cornel West as a Green (6%) and Michael Rectenwald as the Libertarian candidate (also 6%); in a five-person race with Kennedy, this poll says Trump would again beat Biden by 1 (39%-38%), with Kennedy at 17%, West at 4%, and Rectenwald at 2%. I don't believe any of these minor-party numbers, and I would have included a No Labels candidate (probably Joe Manchin), but I think Kennedy might draw evenly from Trump and Biden if he's on enough ballots to matter. If he's on the ballot in swing states Biden needs to win, Democrats can remind voters of his vaccine theories and other insane statements. It's possible that the major parties will discredit him enough that he'll take votes primarily from West. I don't think he'll throw the election to Trump or Biden.

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