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An RFK Jr. third-party run would hurt Trump while building upon his 2016 success

There is a political buzz building that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is about to announce that he will run for president as a third-party candidate. Should that come to be, it will shake the pillars of the political world. 

In anticipation of that announcement, some Democrats and some in the media have donned their Chicken Little costumes, running around telling anyone who will listen that “The sky will fall for Biden and the Democrats if RFK Jr. runs third party! The sky will fall!”

The sky may indeed continue to fall for President Biden, but it won’t be because of Kennedy. It will be because — as the latest Washington Post poll showing former President Trump with a nine-point lead indicates — a majority of the country seems to be moving on from him.

If anything, there is a very strong case to be made that a Kennedy independent run would ultimately pull more votes from Trump than Biden. A recent piece in Newsweek quotes Turning Point USA Founder Charlie Kirk suggesting that the reports about panic from Democrats over an independent Kennedy run are a “strategy” to conceal the threat that Kennedy would pose to the Republican Party. “Far more of the ‘I don’t trust the government’ brigade would vote for RFK Jr. if he were run as a Libertarian,” stressed Kirk.

Regardless of whether he takes more votes from Trump or Biden, because of his growing populism — combined with the increasing dislike of Trump and Biden, as well as the massive candidate fatigue both produce — as a third-party candidate, Kennedy could be looking at a vote percentage well above that of Ross Perot’s 19 percent in 1992 or Teddy Roosevelt’s 27 percent when he ran third party in 1912. 

Should he top Roosevelt while picking off key electoral states, Election Night might prove to be very long and potentially historic.

But how would it get to that point?

On a recent broadcast, Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum hinted as to why. Kennedy, she stressed, “has a lot of support among [Joe] Rogan listeners, Jordan Peterson listeners, and what he’s talking about in this video is that there has to be a different path. He has a lot of people, young people, very interested in what he’s saying.” 


For that, we can go back to the 2016 Trump campaign. One of the mistakes Trump and some of his closest advisers made regarding the 2016 election was believing that Trump’s victory was about him. It was not. It was about the American people cast aside by the political elites.

It was about tens of millions of at-risk Americans from across the political and socioeconomic spectrum who deeply believed that the entrenched establishments from both political parties not only no longer heard their desperate cries for help, but no longer cared about them at all. Faced with that grim reality, they decided to cast their lot with the brash outsider New York City businessman and hope for a miracle. 

Today, those tens of millions of disenfranchised Americans still exist and feel more abandoned than ever after years of deteriorating quality of life. Only now, more young people are joining their ranks, believing that the fossilized two major parties no longer hear or see them either.

Some of the same younger and independent voters who heard the voice of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2020 may now be turning toward Kennedy. Of course, the memory of how the Democratic National Committee (DNC) unfairly treated Sanders is one of the reasons why Kennedy may go third party.

We must ask: Would the DNC actually prefer a Trump victory to one from RFK Jr., out of allegiance to either the Biden White House or the donor class that keeps it in business? No matter its ultimate motivations, the DNC has clearly and purposefully painted Kennedy into a corner — from which he now appears resolved to reposition his campaign to amplify his vision for the nation.

Are the political sands now shifting enough to make a Kennedy victory possible? Evidence seems to be mounting. 

The latest Gallup poll shows support for a third major party is at an all-time high of 63 percent. Additionally, 75 percent of independents want a third party. And, for the first time in polling history, a majority of Republicans — at 58 percent — want a third-party option.

The needle is moving away from the establishment elites, and Kennedy may be the main beneficiary. Why? 

As reported in recent Reuters/Ipsos polling, RFK Jr. has a much higher favorability ratings than either Trump or Biden, with 51 percent of respondents having a positive view of him compared to 45 percent for Biden and 40 percent for Trump. The more people hear him — despite much of the mainstream media censoring his voice and vision — the more they seem to like him and identify with his message.

After that, we come to the age and vitality factor. At a very active 69, Kennedy might have an appeal to Americans looking for a younger candidate than Biden, 80, and Trump, 77. Reuters/Ipsos polling also showed some 86 percent of Americans said they believe the cutoff for serving as president should be age 75 or younger. 

But more than anything else, it will most likely still come down to one word: Hope.

For those millions of hurting and desperate Americans, Democratic and Republican leaders seem to be pushing fear above all else. The Republicans predict a total collapse of the United States as we know it should Biden win reelection. The Democrats predict an all-consuming Armageddon if Trump prevails.

The problem for both entrenched parties is those tens of millions of Americans, from our inner cities to our rural towns, who have already lived the real-life consequences of those two predictions for years.

Mentally, physically and spiritually, they have grown weary of the entrenched elites dictating their two choices cycle after cycle and yearn for a platform — and a candidate — who seeks to unite while offering hope based upon commonsense real-world and equitable solutions.

Kennedy has chosen Philadelphia to make his announcement for its iconic symbolism in preparation of burning his boats with no retreat possible. Will such a gamble launch the most serious third-party challenge of our time and rewrite the history of American politics?

As both the Democratic and Republican elites seem increasingly panicked by the move, it just might.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.

Tags 2024 presidential election Charlie Kirk Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Biden Jordan Peterson RFK Jr. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Third party