Making the rounds of opinion-influencer social media and politically oriented podcasts over the last week to gauge the current state of the presidential race, one could be excused for believing that no great shake-up had occurred.
In Trump World, all the discussion was about the former president’s highly politicized civil fraud trial in New York and how it would backfire by making Trump a more formidable candidate. Meanwhile, left-leaning outlets were hyping GOP dysfunction in the House and the Republican losses in the off-year elections as an early indicator that Biden will fare better than expected next November.
But one development that sent shock waves through the entire class of paid political consultants inside the Beltway went almost unmentioned publicly. A topic of constant discussion and not a little bit of anxiety on both sides was the extraordinarily strong showing of third-party candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in two recent national polls. Both of the polls showed Kennedy leading both President Biden and former President Trump among the key electoral demographics of independent voters and voters under 45 years of age.
Just how disturbing is this development for the uni-party establishment in Washington? Disturbing enough that the New York Times ran a brief story essentially dismissing its own poll results under the interpretive headline, “What’s Behind Kennedy’s Poll Numbers? Voters Dread a Trump-Biden Rematch.”
The piece reads almost as a parody of a damage-control exercise. It included the remarkable disclaimer that the poll of six key presidential battleground states, which found RFK the choice of nearly a quarter of those polled in a three-way matchup with Biden and Trump, “almost surely inflates the support of Mr. Kennedy.”
But the argument does not bear scrutiny that Kennedy’s remarkably strong showing is merely a function of dissatisfaction with the prospect of a Biden-Trump rematch. His fundraising haul for the third quarter, $8.7 million, demonstrates robust support for his candidacy, not just dissatisfaction with other choices.
Significantly, Kennedy raised millions of dollars from people who didn’t donate at all in the last two presidential elections, a sign that he’s activating new voters. Remarkably, he maintains a 19 percent favorability lead with voters over both Biden and Trump — this despite a concerted effort by almost every mainstream media outlet to dismiss him as a conspiracy theorist and crank.
The truth is that Kennedy is connecting on the issues. With an exploding debt and a faltering economy, the U.S. is now being dragged into enormous, open-ended military commitments in two major world conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, while our own borders and our citizens experience unprecedented levels of insecurity.
In this tumultuous environment, RFK Jr. has effectively positioned himself as the peace candidate, even over Trump, since Kennedy’s critique of the military-industrial complex driving U.S. forever wars is much more cogent and comprehensive. Alone among the candidates, he has outlined policies to address the cost-of-living and affordable housing crises that are wrecking opportunity for Gen Z and younger Millennials. In fact, this probably helps explain his significant lead among that crucial demographic.
And his positions on the environment, legalization of marijuana and abortion are much more practical and in sync with post-Regan era political realities than those of his major party opponents, constrained as they are by antiquated party orthodoxies.
Kennedy has also positioned himself as the constitutional candidate with his consistent defense of free speech and civil liberties. This is important in an age of unprecedented threats from federal government and intelligence community monitors of so-called “disinformation” and media platforms in willing or forced compliance with demands to crack down on speech deemed dangerous.
Kennedy’s flexibility and ability to transcend easy liberal-conservative political branding is perhaps most apparent in his early critique of the Biden administration’s disastrous open borders policy, which has left mayors of solidly blue Democratic sanctuary cities unable to deal with the flood of new migrants. RFK’s populist orientation allows him to recognize that a policy supported for cynical electoral reasons by one party and cynical economic reasons by the other is actually in the interests of no one, including the migrants themselves.
Given the polling on the migrant crisis, it stands to reason that Kennedy’s practical and detailed plan to seal the border and end the crisis is one major reason for his surprising strength.
Make no mistake, the Beltway establishment is spooked. Their strategy seems to be to get Kennedy to spend all of his money on personal security (this explains the Biden administration’s remarkable decision to deny him Secret Service protection) and on qualifying for ballot access by burying his independent campaign under a mountain of legal fees through well-funded lawfare strategies to block ballot access in the states. It remains to be seen whether these anti-democratic measures will be successful in derailing what appears to be a genuine populist insurgency.
Brian Robertson is a writer and literary agent living in Maryland.
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