When Robert F. Kennedy Jr. toured New Hampshire earlier this year, Donald Trump’s campaign viewed him as a “pure asset,” as a source close to the campaign put it.
Kennedy ran against President Joe Biden in the Democratic primary, issuing dystopian and conspiratorial criticism of the government that disguised misinformation as populism in a way that Trump could never pull off — at least under the right circumstances.
Since beginning his campaign in April, Kennedy has accused the Biden administration of unprecedentedly denying him Secret Service protection, suggesting that it was done for political reasons falsely claim He was the first candidate since his father’s assassination in 1968 not to receive it at this point in the primary.
He has also gone after Biden on the vaccine rollout in a way that Trump could not — given that his own White House launched Project Warp Speed to speed up vaccinations — by accused the president of being in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry and insulted his fellow Democrat: “their president.”
Now that he plans to run as an independent in the 2024 general election, putting him in direct competition with Trump for similarly inclined voters, Kennedy’s days of escaping the wrath of MAGA may be numbered.
“If he wants to run, run. Good,” the source close to the Trump campaign told The Daily Beast, requesting anonymity to speak candidly about a sensitive topic. “But if he decides to run as an independent, then he is our opponent.”
And while Trump has so far welcomed Kennedy into the mix, an independent campaign would likely warrant some Trump-sized attacks that could ultimately undermine Kennedy’s appeal in the face of the anti-vaccine voters fueling his campaign.
If Kennedy can get on the ballot in key electoral states – where recent elections were decided by just a few thousand votes – he could potentially attract enough anti-vaccine and conspiracy-believing voters to significantly influence the outcome.
Trumpworld is already ramping up its attacks to ensure that Kennedy remains a spoiler for Biden, not Trump.
“He’s not the centrist he portrays himself to be,” Trumpworld’s source continued, hinting at how they could undercut Kennedy. “He is a hard-line Democrat on a number of important issues that run counter to the Republican Party and, in particular, MAGA Republicans.”
The Kennedy campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Kennedy, an avowed anti-vaccination activist still insists he isn’t oneHe’s “cashing in his old reputation for his new one,” a senior New Hampshire Democrat told The Daily Beast. Although the president’s longtime chief organizer and adviser praised Kennedy as a seasoned environmental advocate, they remained puzzled by his transformation into a modern-day Pied Piper of conspiracy theorists.
While Kennedy would have had little wiggle room left to keep fundraising flowing and his name in the news once the Democratic primaries began in earnest next year, running as an independent in the general election allows him to remain relevant throughout November stay 2024.
There are few public surveys of Kennedy voters and their secondary voters that would provide a clearer sense of whether he would be more damaging to Biden or Trump as an independent. But Kennedy himself seems to think the question is not complicated. In a current one Podcast interview with comedian Theo VonKennedy stated flatly: “I’ll take more votes from President Trump than from President Biden.”
A FiveThirtyEight analysis of August found that Kennedy is far more popular with Republicans than with those in his own party, with his Republican approval ratings consistently in the positive 20 to 30 range. Meanwhile, Democrats tend to have a largely negative view of him in the primaries so far.
“RFK Jr. appeals to crazy people, and especially Trump crazy people,” a former Democratic presidential campaign adviser told The Daily Beast, requesting anonymity to speak candidly about the things some Democrats aren’t saying out loud about the controversial heir to one of the most important things American politicians would say political dynasties.
“Truly rational voters, even those who don’t love Biden, are not interested in injecting bleach into their veins,” the Democrat added, alluding to Trump’s infamous COVID press conference where he talked about wanting to “hit the body” with “very strong light” and “disinfectant” by injection.
Although Kennedy appeared to benefit from big name identification early in the primaries For most of the summer, poll numbers were at or just above 15 percentAt the end of August and beginning of September it fell slightly in the surveys and recently climbed back to its high point of 15 percent.
Before Kennedy made a splash about an independent campaign, the arc of his campaign seemed to have a fairly clear end point.
On January 23, 2024, Kennedy could have expected to have an entire news cycle to himself. Normally, Democrats and Republicans would be voting in the New Hampshire primary that night, but not this year.
With Democrats naming South Carolina their new first-in-the-nation primary, the party’s official primary in New Hampshire won’t take place until Feb. 6, the same day as Nevada. But in protest of the new rules, New Hampshire Democrats are pushing for an unsanctioned primary that has no formal significance in the nomination process.
Kennedy focused his campaign on the state. That focus, along with his place in New England’s political royalty, should give him a chance to capture a significant portion of the vote in an unrecognized primary — one in which Biden, in theory, would not appear on the ballot.
Wouldn’t that be new? Rogue Elementary SchoolThe senior Democrat from New Hampshire argued that Kennedy would not be relevant at all in this cycle.
“The only reason he would even have a chance at New Hampshire is because of all the hubbub surrounding the first primary in the country going to South Carolina instead,” the senior New Hampshire Democrat said.
It is noteworthy that Trump is not the only candidate with whom Kennedy shares some similarities.
There is an unusual overlap in donors and celebrity supporters for both Kennedy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as Axios reported in July. Aside from Kennedy’s anti-vaccine rhetoric, he also opposes sending more military aid to Ukraine, another point on which some DeSantis supporters and much of the GOP base agree.
If Kennedy were to extend his low-budget campaign until November 2024, even a few thousand votes going his way could make enough of a difference in key battlegrounds if the well-funded centrist group No Labels also fielded a third candidate – and that’s still Not even worth mentioning Cornel West, who is launching his own third-party run from Biden’s left.
In part, third-party candidates helped Trump achieve his narrow victory in 2016 with just 79,646 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which tipped the Electoral College in his favor.
In all three of these statesLibertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein combined to secure enough votes to surpass Hillary Clinton’s lead.
According to Trumpworld’s source, Kennedy’s comments about accepting support from Trump did not go unnoticed at Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster.
“A lot of the right wing wanted to highlight some of the good things that RFK made in his criticism of Biden, but there’s also a lot of material there that the right doesn’t know about,” the Republican said, pointing to Kennedy’s support for survivors of the 2020 election Parkland’s 2018 shooting in Florida and his stance on climate change are considered an absolute no-go for any true MAGA supporter.
But so far the Trump campaign hasn’t put too much pressure on Kennedy. While there are suspicions that he could receive support from bitter DeSantis supporters, the Trump campaign smells more like a fraud than anything else.
“I don’t think he’s as much of a threat to Trump as he claims,” the source close to Trump said, referring to Kenney’s comments on the Theo Von podcast. “I think he’s saying that to stay relevant and keep bringing in money.”