Republicans, led by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, were instrumental in recruiting conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. into the Democratic primary. In their dreams, President Joe Biden would struggle against the famous family scion, damaging Biden ahead of his expected rematch with Donald Trump next year.
But instead of running in the Democratic primary, Kennedy spent all his time building an audience and support on right-wing media. Now that he’s running as an independent, it’s Trump’s team that is hilariously freaking out.
The “Leopards Ate Face” meme hails from this iconic tweet:
It refers to people who suffer the consequences of their own actions. Leopards Ate Face stories are insanely popular on this site, including the number one story in all of September. We all love to bask in the schadenfreude of bad people supporting bad things, and the three people most affected here—Bannon, Trump, and Kennedy—are quite literally the worst people.
It all started with Bannon, who reportedly spent “months” recruiting Kennedy into the race.
Bannon is really into the whole “chaos agent” thing, from guiding Trump’s first presidential campaign to most recently helping orchestrate former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster. “You create a firestorm now that totally changes things,” he said on his podcast explaining why he was working to break the House, as reported by The New York Times. “People right now think government is a benefit. I’m going to show government spending as cootie-infested.”
He hoped for the same kind of chaos in the Democratic primary, with Kennedy undermining the sitting president’s support and building a media narrative of “Biden is in trouble.”
Unfortunately for Bannon, Democrats had little interest in Kennedy, and neither did any left-of-center media. He is a rabid conspiracy theorist and anti-vaxxer who is literally killing people with his regressive ideology. What part of Kennedy, other than his last name, was supposed to appeal to Democrats? It certainly wasn’t his proclamation that he supported an abortion ban at three months, or his participation in a sham House Republican “weaponization” hearing. And claiming that “they” had bioengineered a COVID virus that spared Jewish people didn’t land well.
Heck, even that last name isn’t the draw people thought it was. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, or 60 years ago. Bobby Kennedy was murdered 55 years ago. Sen. Ted Kennedy died in 2009. The country has moved on, and Democrats just don’t do the “cult of personality” thing that fuels conservatives.
So Kennedy spent all summer trying to gain Democratic primary support by … spending all his time on conservative media. Was that the kind of “chaos” Bannon expected from his project?
What’s worse is that conservative media loved Kennedy. Trump national security adviser and fellow conspiracy theorist Mike Flynn tweeted, “I am really starting to like this presidential candidate’s attitude.” Conservative talking head Charlie Kirk said Kennedy was “one of the most articulate and thoughtful political activists going after the administrative state.” Conservative talk show host Steve Deace tweeted, “As long as he doesn’t go trans, a man with high character and courage like RFK Jr will be tempting.”
So a funny thing happened: Democrats laughed Kennedy out of their primary debate. He was an irrelevant non-factor. But Republicans? They embraced him. In private Civiqs polling, Kennedy has a 46% approval rating among Republicans, with just 20% unfavorable. Among Democrats? It’s 15% favorable, 69% unfavorable.
Kennedy’s super PAC itself has numbers showing their candidate will draw more voters from Trump than he will from Biden. “All told, the poll shows that in a general election between Trump, Biden and a generic ‘independent candidate,’ the result is Trump at 40 percent, Biden at 38 percent and the independent candidate at 17 percent,” reported Politico. “In a matchup between Trump, Biden and ‘Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’ as the independent candidate, the result is Trump and Biden tied at 38 percent with Kennedy at 19 percent.”
In other words, Kennedy sliced off 2 points from Trump, and had zero effect on Biden.
Democratic voters were never fooled.
Now, independent candidates never perform as high as they poll. As much as people complain about the two major parties, in the end, few want to waste their votes on third-party spoilers. Kennedy would be no different.
But regardless, it’s clear that the more people learn about Kennedy, the more he’ll appeal to exactly the kind of people who support Trump: anti-science and antisemitic conspiracy theorists with only the thinnest grasp on reality. That’s why the Republican National Committee just sent an email attempting to link Kennedy to both Biden and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "RFK Jr. knows full well he’ll 'take more votes' from the Republican nominee; that’s why he’s running," said the RNC email, as reported by The Messenger. "But do not be fooled — the only way to reverse America’s decline at the hands of Biden is to elect a Republican as president next year."
The Trump campaign is certainly sweating it. “One person close to Trump’s campaign said [polling] showed that Kennedy took more votes from Trump than left-wing independent Cornel West drew from Biden when both were tested,” reported Semafor. “It’s single digits, but it’s enough where it counts to make a difference.” The story notes that the Trump campaign is ready to unleash on Kennedy, citing a “Trumpworld person”: “We’re gonna be dropping napalm after napalm on his head reminding the public of his very liberal views, dating back to 2012. We have a lot of stuff on him.”
Kennedy thought conservative media loved him. We’ll now see how much of that appreciation was genuine respect, and how much of it was an opportunistic effort to sow chaos on the Democratic side. The first hint will be when (and if) Kennedy speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference running Oct. 18-21. He was scheduled to attend when he was still pretending to be a Democrat. It’ll be interesting to see if the invitation still stands now that he’s running as an independent who is threatening Trump, and how the crowd treats him if he ends up on stage.
Bannon thought he was sowing chaos in the Democratic primary. Instead, it’s Republicans sweating Kennedy’s presence in the race.
Nom nom nom.
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