RFK aims to upset existing dynamic between party frontrunners, build new electoral coalition

Environmental lawyer and pharmaceutical safety advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. announced that he would continue his ongoing presidential campaign as an independent at an event at Independence Mall in Philadelphia on October 9. A lifelong Democrat, Kennedy argued that the party of his father and his uncle no longer offered a suitable vehicle for his White House bid. The move could potentially have major consequences for the outcome of the 2024 presidential race.

Kennedy’s remarks began with an appeal to the group he described as “the dispossessed”: Americans living from paycheck to paycheck, suffering from chronic illness, and beholden to addiction. These people, Kennedy stated, have been denied a voice in political decision-making by elites in Washington, D.C. and the two-party system.

Drawing on the revolutionary imagery of the speech’s setting, Kennedy proclaimed, “We declare independence from Wall Street, from Big Tech, from Big Pharma, from Big Ag[riculture], from the military contractors and their lobbyists.” He continued, “We declare independence from the mercenary media that is here to fortify all of the corporate orthodoxies from their advertisers and to urge us to hate our neighbors and fear our friends.”

“It’s more than independence from two parties. It’s independence from tribal thinking,” the Camelot scion said. Kennedy presents himself as a candidate whose stances can appeal to disaffected voters on both the left and right. While his questioning of the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines caused him to draw the ire of many mainstream institutions during the pandemic, health freedom remains a central pillar of his insurgent campaign. 

Additionally, Kennedy has also voiced strong opposition to the national security state. The platform page of his website says, “The intelligence agencies spy on our own people. Government and tech platforms conspire to surveil and censor the public.” For Kennedy, the issue is personal; he has repeatedly stated his belief that the CIA bears responsibility for his father’s and uncle’s assassinations.

However, Kennedy also supports several policies which are more popular among liberals. He has proposed a federal reparations program called “Targeted Community Repair,” arguing that funds are needed to rebuild black communities which suffer from a lack of basic infrastructure and generational wealth. Additionally, Kennedy is pro-choice. Although he said that he would accept a fifteen-week abortion ban at an August campaign event, his campaign staff quickly amended the candidate’s statement. “Mr. Kennedy’s position on abortion is that it is always the woman’s right to choose. He does not support legislation banning abortion.”

Kennedy had teased a switch to running as an independent for weeks leading up to the official announcement. Prior to Kennedy’s entrance into the race in April, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) took steps to upend the usual primary calendar—which begins with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary—and move contests in South Carolina, Georgia, and Michigan to earlier positions in the schedule.

Proponents of the change claim that it will make the primary process more reflective of the Democratic Party’s electorate, but during his Philadelphia speech, Kennedy labeled the revisions as part of a broader effort to deny his supporters a voice within the party. Faced with an uphill battle in the Democratic primaries and President Biden’s refusal to debate, Kennedy said that becoming an independent was the most logical path forward.

“The Democrats are frightened that I’m going to spoil the election for President Biden. And the Republicans are frightened that I’m going to spoil it for President Trump. … My intention is to spoil it for both of them. And only that inside-the-beltway myopia deludes them into thinking that [my campaign] has no chance of winning.”

Despite Kennedy’s insistence that he does not intend to peel away votes from one candidate in particular, initial responses to the pivot suggest that his presence on the ballot may be significant enough to alter the outcome of the November 2024 general election. An October 11 poll conducted by NPR, PBS NewsHour, and Marist College indicated that, despite Trump polling closely with Biden in a two-way race, Kennedy’s independent run would provide a significant benefit to the current president’s re-election. The survey suggested that Biden would win by seven points in a hypothetical three-way contest. In this scenario, Kennedy would draw five percent of Biden’s support, ten percent from Trump, and twenty-nine percent of independent voters.

Junior Alex DelVecchio, an economics and pre-health major, was skeptical about Kennedy’s switch to the independent lane. “I found his ideas interesting at first, but it’s become clear that they have less and less overlap with my own,” he told the Rover. DelVecchio echoed other commentators in questioning Kennedy’s past political allegiances and his underlying motivations for disrupting the 2024 race.

DelVecchio added, “I’d say that I definitely wouldn’t vote for him in a general election, and would encourage conservatives not to vote for him either. I feel that he may very well have been encouraged to run as a spoiler to draw votes away from Trump, but I think at the end of the day his effect will be less clear and concrete. He may even end up taking more from Biden in my opinion, just from disaffected and anti-interventionist leftists.”

Jose Bufill, a local oncologist, countered with a more positive view, saying, “People seem to be disappointed in mounting evidence of collusion between our government and the media, the defense industry, pharma and tech companies. All of this creates a system that favors profits over persons. Wars are being invented rather than avoided, and human beings are suffering needlessly, because of the greed and blindness of people with influence over systems of control. If he were more committed to life issues, I would work to get RFK Jr. elected.”

PJ Butler is a senior studying political science and theology. In addition to his serious pursuits, he also aspires to become a master chef of Italian cuisine. To send him recipes from your grandmother’s cookbook or request his signature mushroom risotto, email him at pbutler3@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Instagram

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