His name is golden, he has a certain amount of charisma, and his policy stances create headlines, but can Robert F. Kennedy Jr. win the Democratic nomination? Can he beat Joe Biden?
He is doing surprisingly well in polls – achieving around 16 to 20 percent in support, but that could be due to his universal name recognition. Kennedy is also known as an “anti-vaxxer” which could scare some Democrats away. He must show that there is more steak than sizzle to carry his campaign over the top. People may be tired of Joe Biden and believe the president is too old, but are they willing to support Kennedy instead?
Kennedy is the son of beloved Democrat RFK and the nephew of the heroic JFK. He carries a large amount of animus toward the CIA, which he blames for his uncle’s death. This has some political observers wondering if he is a conspiracy theorist.
But Kennedy is an accomplished environmental attorney. His views on the need to fight climate change and create a transition to clean energy put him in the progressive mainstream.
His campaign against the Covid-19 vaccine has many Democrats alarmed as skepticism against the jab is often associated with Republicans. Even his own family thinks that RFK Jr. is spreading misinformation against science. Kennedy continues to rail against Big Pharma in his speeches. There are a stubborn minority on the left that are also suspicious of the Covid vaccine and Kennedy could tap into this sentiment. At least one poll has revealed that “Twelve percent of Democrats report being unwilling or uncertain to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” according to The Hill.
Like his relatives, Kennedy is for the little guy, and this economic populism makes him popular with voters who would normally support Senators Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. This lane could endear him to Democrats who think the country is run by oligarchs, banks, and corporations.
One Kennedy quote summed up this rebellious philosophy. “End the corrupt merger of state and corporate power that is threatening now to impose a new kind of corporate feudalism on our country.”
RFK Jr. has another uncle who challenged a sitting president. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts ran against President Jimmy Carter in 1980 and the senator rattled some cages. Like President Joe Biden, Carter was also victimized by inflation and a poor economy. Kennedy did not win, but he placed doubt about Carter’s future and wounded the president heading into the general election against Ronald Reagan. RFK Jr. could repeat history in his attempt to unseat Biden.
One problem that RFK Jr. has already encountered is the Democratic National Committee’s desire to avoid a dangerous primary that could result in a brokered convention that would weaken Biden’s re-election bid. Therefore, the DNC is not allowing a Democrat debate that would pit Kennedy and Marianne Williamson against Biden. This decision hurts Kennedy the most. Allowing the gaffe prone Biden to be skewered on stage by Kennedy would be disastrous for the party and make Republicans ecstatic.
Thus, Kennedy must be considered a long-shot. He has a low ceiling and the support he has now may not grow beyond the fringe of the Democrat party. Kennedy has some eyebrow raising if not interesting things to say but these unorthodox positions could scare off more voters than he attracts.
Meanwhile, Republicans are happy that Kennedy is taking shots at Biden this early in the race. So far, the Biden campaign has not acknowledged that there is a primary battle with Kennedy and Williamson. Both would have to perform well in early states before they run out of money. That will likely be the problem with the challengers, the inability to have the campaign infrastructure and fund-raising ability to remain competitive. The best RFK Jr. can hope for is to land some punches against Biden that would soften him up for Donald Trump or whoever the Republican nominee will be. RFK Jr. is thus nothing more than a famous progeny who says provocative things. He will not win, but he might make some noise that could embarrass the Biden camp.
Author Expertise and Experience:
Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.
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