Spoiler alert: RFK Jr. enters presidential race as an independent
The conspiracy theorist Robert Kennedy Jr, has announced an independent campaign which he brazenly says he is doing to threaten the candidacy of Joe Biden. | Wikipedia (CC)

PHILADELPHIA—Running on his famous name and Republican cash, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the late Attorney General and assassinated presidential candidate, and nephew of murdered President John F. Kennedy, announced on Oct. 9 that he’s running for president as an independent.

In doing so, he abandoned a long-shot bid against Democratic incumbent Joe Biden, a candidacy that faded as his extreme views—such as conspiracy theories and opposition to all moves to fight the coronavirus pandemic—became more widely known.

Sounding Trump-like populist themes in a speech near Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the former congressman and sometime environmental lawyer lashed out at “corrupt corporations,” the “mercenary media,” political elites, and the two-party system.

It’s that same system, however, that gives Kennedy and other independent hopefuls—author Cornel West also switched to an independent candidacy five days before—leverage.

That’s because if past is prologue, a third-party candidate with a noted name, scads of money or both can swing next year’s election to one of the two major-party nominees, now generally conceded to be Biden and his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.

A Reuters poll taken just before Kennedy’s announcement showed him drawing 14% of the popular vote, with Biden at 31% and Trump at 33%, within the margin of error. The general expectation—and past history—show Kennedy’s likely to draw votes from Biden, thus throwing next year’s election to Trump.

And Trump, as even Kennedy’s own siblings implied in a joint statement, is a menace to the country, given his track record.

Trump now faces civil charges in federal court in D.C. for aiding, abetting, and ordering the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol invasion, insurrection, and attempted coup d’état. He also faces federal charges in Florida for purloining White House papers to his Mar-A-Lago estate.

“The decision of our brother Bobby to run as a third-party candidate against Joe Biden is dangerous to our country,” Rory Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and Joseph P. Kennedy II said in a joint statement.

“Bobby might share the same name as our father, but he does not share the same values, vision, or judgment. Today’s announcement is deeply saddening for us. We denounce his candidacy and believe it to be perilous for our country.”

Joseph Kennedy II, like RFK Jr., is a former member of Congress. Townsend is a former Democratic lieutenant governor of Maryland.

Before that, when RFK Jr. still planned to challenge Biden in party primaries, Jack Schlossberg, JFK’s grandson, called RFK Jr. “an embarrassment,” particularly citing RFK Jr.’s enthusiasm for various conspiracy theories. Schlossberg endorsed Biden, calling him the most progressive president in years.

Historically the last two times there were significant third-party/independent candidates in the presidential race, they swung the balloting, once each way.

In 1992, industrialist H. Ross Perot, denouncing the “giant sucking sound” of U.S. jobs going to Mexico, drew 19% of the vote in a three-way race between Democratic nominee Bill Clinton and Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush. Though no exit polls survive from that tilt, the general consensus among analysts was that Perot took votes from Bush.

And in 2000, and specifically in the deciding state, Florida, some combination of the chaotic “Butterfly Ballot” in populous Palm Beach County, and Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, who drew more than 9,000 votes statewide, gave the state to Republican George W. Bush when the U.S. Supreme Court, voting on partisan lines, stopped the vote count with Bush with a 537-vote lead.

The Republican National Committee, which is under Trump’s thumb, issued a pro forma denunciation of Kennedy as a liberal.

But money speaks louder than words in the GOP, and a pro-Kennedy SuperPAC reported in July that $5 million of its money—just over half–came from one big donor: Republican investor Timothy Mellon, scion of the banking family. Most of the other RFK Jr., donors, large and small, had split their past contributions between the parties or leaned Republican, Politico reported.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.