With Robert F. Kennedy now running as an independent, the dynamics of the 2024 presidential race have become more unpredictable.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s switch from Democrat to independent has transformed him into a more potent wildcard in the 2024 presidential race.
As the son of a former U.S. senator and the nephew of a former U.S. president, Mr. Kennedy inherited name recognition and political clout, both of which can influence voters.
Now, after announcing his candidacy as an independent on Oct. 9, he is poised to become the strongest independent presidential candidate in decades. Although businessman Ross Perot lost both of his independent presidential bids to Democrat Bill Clinton, he drew 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992 and 8 percent in 1996, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Like Mr. Perot, Mr. Kennedy is considered a long shot to win the presidency; it seems more likely that he could play spoiler in the next presidential election.
Many citizens are less-than-enthused about the leading candidates from the two major political parties, polling has consistently shown. Those disenchanted voters may see Mr. Kennedy as an appealing alternative to either President Joe Biden, a Democrat, or the Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.
As a challenger, Mr. Kennedy was situated to directly siphon Democrat votes away from President Biden. Now, by becoming an independent, Mr. Kennedy may be able to more effectively woo otherwise party-faithful voters who couldn’t stomach the idea of casting a ballot for the opposing party’s candidate.
Mr. Kennedy’s candidacy is sure to detract from both major parties’ candidates; the operative question is: To what degree?
Disputes ‘No Chance To Win’
As speculation swirls around whether President Trump or President Biden might bear the brunt of the RFK Jr. effect, campaign strategists are faced with trying to counteract it.
“The Democrats are terrified I’ll spoil the election for President Biden. The Republicans fear I’ll spoil it for President Trump. The truth is–they’re both right!” Mr. Kennedy said in a statement that announced his independent run. “But only their inside-the-beltway myopia deludes them into thinking we have no chance to win. I’ve seen the polls that they won’t show you.”
He did not disclose those polls in his announcement.
Two other polls, taken recently amid rumors that Mr. Kennedy was gearing up to run as an independent, put Mr. Kennedy far behind the major parties’ presumed candidates.
Those polls also say that former President Trump might eke out a victory in a hypothetical three-way race with Mr. Kennedy and President Biden. An Ipsos/Reuters poll, released Oct. 6, showed President Trump leading with 33 percent of the vote, followed by President Biden at 31 percent, and RFK Jr. at 14 percent. An earlier poll by Echelon found a similar result.
With such tight margins, and nearly a year to go before the general election, those numbers almost certainly will change. Much will depend on how the candidates play the hand they have now been dealt.
Trump Team Warns Voters
While President Biden’s camp did not immediately respond to a request for comment about RFK Jr.’s independent run, Steven Cheung, a spokesman for President Trump’s campaign, said voters should be leery of Mr. Kennedy.
“Voters should not be deceived by anyone who pretends to have conservative values,” Mr. Cheung told The Epoch Times. “The fact is that RFK has a disturbing background steeped in radical, liberal positions.”
“Whether he’s a China sympathizer, denigrating gun owners, promoting business-killing green policies, or supporting on-demand abortion, an RFK candidacy is nothing more than a vanity project for a liberal Kennedy looking to cash in on his family’s name.”
The newly declared independent candidate did not respond directly to Mr. Cheung’s assertions.
But in an exclusive story The Epoch Times published a month ago, Mr. Kennedy discussed many of his policy views.
While the article did not address anything about China, Mr. Kennedy did state that he supports abortion during the first three months of pregnancy. That stance aligns with his overall belief in “medical freedom,” said Mr. Kennedy, who has opposed the pharmaceutical industry and coercing people to take vaccines. An environmental attorney, Mr. Kennedy reiterated his belief in environmental protection.
Mr. Kennedy said he did not believe gun violence could be reduced through gun-control laws but he said he would go along with an assault-weapons ban if Congress passed one.
Deb Baber, a Trump supporter in Ventura, California, said she is skeptical of Mr. Kennedy’s motives. She thinks “he’s out there because of the legacy of his family,” and she is troubled that “he is not disavowing anything categorically about the Democrat Party and its takeover long ago by totalitarians. He is not condemning it.”
Mrs. Baber told The Epoch Times she is concerned that Democrats who were leaning toward voting for President Trump will now vote for Mr. Kennedy, partly because of his political pedigree.
Also, Mr. Kennedy will “capitalize” on the perception that “he was out there fighting against the government tyranny about COVID and health and everything else,” she said.
The problem, Mrs. Baber said, is that Mr. Kennedy is asserting that he knows how to remedy what ails America’s government but “he doesn’t really know how to fix it.” She said he seems to offer few details as to how he would accomplish the changes he advocates.
In contrast, Mrs. Baber said, “The Trump campaign is out there saying, ‘I need to be the one that’s going to lead us. Here’s how I’m going to lead. Here are the policies and principles. Here are the specifics that we’re going to get done and I need you to get behind those things.'”
Trump’s Criminal Charges A Factor
Mrs. Baber also thinks that some of President Trump’s supporters view Mr. Kennedy as the next-best choice if the former president “gets sidelined because of the weaponization and the justice system and that two-tier justice system.” The former president has been indicted on 91 criminal charges in four indictments. He has pleaded not guilty and alleges that the charges are bogus, and are rooted in an attempt to torpedo his candidacy.
Brent Snyder, a registered Republican who voted for President Trump in 2016 and 2020, said concerns about the former president’s legal woes played a role in his decision to support Mr. Kennedy.
“I think right now, a lot of people feel that there is a huge divide in this country. And even though I do support President Trump, I just think that he just brings too much division and too much baggage,” Mr. Snyder told The Epoch Times. “I mean, he can’t focus on running for president and he can’t focus on his job as president if he keeps having these indictments.”
Mr. Snyder, who attended Mr. Kennedy’s announcement in Philadelphia on Oct. 9, also said that Mr. Kennedy appeals to moderates and independents while President Trump has trouble reaching those voters.
He added: “There is so much corruption with the two parties and I’m tired of it. We need someone new, someone fresh, who can bring us together.”
Philip Nicosia, a 28-year-old plumber, drove from Pennsylvania to attend the opening of Mr. Kennedy’s New Jersey campaign headquarters in late September. He told The Epoch Times that he was a registered Republican who previously voted for President Trump and changed his party affiliation to Democrat so he could vote for Mr. Kennedy in the primary election.
“I am voting this time for Kennedy because I believe he will do what he says he will do and not be divisive. Trump is exhausting,” Mr. Nicosia said.
Mr. Nicosia admits that he worries that Mr. Kennedy’s candidacy as a third candidate could draw voters away from President Trump and lead to another term for President Biden.
“We need anybody but Joe Biden, but I’m still gonna vote on principle,” Mr. Nicosia told The Epoch Times. “I am voting for who I believe in, and that is Robert F. Kennedy Jr.”
Texans Weigh In
A Texan who supports President Trump, Lana Bento, 54, told The Epoch Times that she has faith that most of the former president’s supporters remain loyal to him.
“Honestly, I believe true Trump supporters will not switch. And even ‘newbies’ to the conservative movement know what is going on and why Trump is being persecuted,” she said. “They experienced the good when he was president, miss the good ol’ days, and learned he is a threat to the liberal establishment.”
Meanwhile, Dylan Marshall, a 36-year-old Trump supporter from Waco, Texas, told The Epoch Times he hasn’t heard about anyone saying they would choose RFK Jr. over President Trump. “I hear people say they like RFK Jr., but I don’t think most people know much about him,” Mr. Marshall said.
Mr. Marshall thinks that Mr. Kennedy will draw Democrat voters who are disgusted by the “full-blown liberal extremist” policies of the Biden administration. Mainstream Democrats are fed up with the Mexico-U.S. border crisis, advocacy of transgenderism, “and continuing to fund and be involved in these wars,” Mr. Marshall said, based on what he sees and hears.
“I think these people don’t like what Biden is doing, but still hate Trump too much to vote for him,” Mr. Marshall said, “so I think the choice [for them] is RFK Jr.”
Candidacy Debated Online
On X, formerly known as Twitter, a number of people responded to an Epoch Times’ reporter’s request for comment about the impact of Mr. Kennedy’s run as an independent. Opinions were divided on whether Mr. Kennedy’s candidacy would affe
ct Democrats or Republicans more.
At least one person raised the possibility that President Trump could further disrupt the playing field if he were to enter the fray as an independent.
Several people said they think President Biden will be replaced on the Democrat ticket. The 80-year-old Democrat leader faces concerns related to his age, his family’s foreign business dealings, and unpopular policies, including those dealing with the economy and immigration.
An X account holder, David McCann, wrote: “While I think he [Mr. Kennedy] will pull some votes from both Biden and Trump, I believe things are getting so bad in this Country that only one candidate has a proven track record of success and be able to return us there — Trump!”
California resident Mark Williams, 54, wrote on X that Mr. Kennedy “might actually win” the election. “Or, if he later comes to the conclusion that he can’t, it puts him in a great negotiating position with Trump to be the Attorney General. I think a lot of Americans would find this appealing,” Mr, Williams wrote.
An X poster known as Lidia agreed that Mr. Kennedy would pull voters from both major parties. “But the media will set the narrative they want, to match the outcome they create,” she wrote.