Robert F. Kennedy Jr., with his famous Democratic name, was supposed to be a Republican weapon against President Joe Biden. Polls immediately after Kennedy said he was challenging Biden gave him some gaudy numbers. No amount of pointing out that was the result of Democrats yearning for a pie-in-the-sky alternate nominee and responding positively to a familiar name would keep the media from reporting it as a serious thing. Well, go figure: Once Democratic voters became more familiar with who Kennedy really is, they turned against him. Now, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake suggests, Republicans may have reason to regret their Kennedy boosterism.
As he teases a third-party run, Kennedy’s favorability is much higher with Republicans than it is with Democrats: 48% of Republicans have a favorable view of him, with just 18% having an unfavorable view. By contrast, Kennedy is viewed favorably by just 14% of Democrats, and unfavorably by 57%. Republicans like Kennedy, Blake points out, “better than entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former vice president Mike Pence and about as much as former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). (Only Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are clearly more popular.)”
Just as a Kennedy third-party run could siphon the votes of some Democrats discontented with Biden, it could do the same to the Republican nominee.
This isn’t a certainty. Kennedy might not get on the ballot in many states, depending if an established third party like the Libertarian Party embraced him and gave him its ballot access. He is likely to find himself competing with Trump when, as Blake notes, “indications seem to be that Kennedy’s potential base (conspiratorial, anti-establishment, anti-vaccine people) overlaps significantly with Trump-oriented voters. If those voters like Kennedy but already have a home, it mitigates the impact.” But he does have positive favorability among Republicans who don’t support Trump, and if Trump is the nominee, those people could conceivably be looking for a non-Biden option.
We don’t know how any of this will play out, and third-party candidates usually look stronger in polling ahead of an election than they do in the actual voting. But it’s clear that “boost RFK Jr. to screw over Democrats” was not a surefire strategy for Republicans.
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