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Trump Kennedy 2024

Free Form Friday: Despite Trump’s attacks on Kennedy, RFK Jr. is Still a Trump Tool

Free Form Friday is my weekly non-Bowie post. Come back tomorrow if you’re looking for more Bowie. I have a great interview I’ll be posting with Rob Fleming, the lead singer and co-founder of the band KillerStar, which has a new album out featuring many Bowie alumni. You won’t want to miss it!

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is running for president in order to help Donald Trump get elected. He might very well be crazy enough not to actually believe it himself (though I doubt that), but key supporters and funders sure do. So does Donald Trump. But despite the best plans, Kennedy seems to be pulling more support from Trump than President Biden. Like Trump, Kennedy is a conspiracy theorist who lives in a fantasy world. So Trump has turned to the tried and true method of attacking Kennedy…for being too liberal.

It’s a common tactic in American political campaigns— confuse the electorate with a shill candidate. I’ve worked on local races within New York State where I witnessed this type of scheme firsthand. One candidate fears he or she can’t win head to head against another candidate, so a third candidate is either encouraged to run or flat-out recruited to confuse voters and draw votes away from the front-runner.

In recent years, Democrats have (correctly) calculated that they have an easier time beating MAGA Republican candidates than sane ones, so they often invest large sums in Republican primaries. This year, for instance, Democrats have purchased advertisements in Ohio blasting the MAGA candidate as being too conservative. That might be a straightforward attack in a general election, but it was launched during the primary. The criticism is intended to actually be appealing to conservative primary voters, with the hope that they would select the easier-to-beat MAGA wacko (the tactic seemed to work as the MAGA candidate on the primary).

Republicans, on the other hand, have secretly run candidates with similar names as their Democratic rivals with the same intent— draw voters away from what would otherwise be their actual preferred choice.

While the tactic has different flavors, the main ingredient is the same: confusion. The phenomena has little to do with democracy except in that it is a manipulation of democratic institutions. Nationally, this year, Kennedy is making a show of getting on the ballot in as many states as he can. Ballot access, he, like other minor party candidates claims is about democracy. But democracy is supposed to be governance by the people, and making it more difficult for the candidate that the most people would find most preferable to get elected is not democratic.

Trump is using a play out of a well-worn playbook. Just as those Ohio Dems attacked Trump’s preferred candidate as being “too conservative,” Trump now is trying to distract from Kennedy’s core policy goals of vaccine opposition and pro-Putin foreign policy by calling him too liberal. The idea is to trick liberals into thinking Kennedy is one of them, thus pulling votes from Biden rather than Trump. This was the idea all along— his name is Robert F. Kennedy, he must be progressive. Right? Right?

Sadly, the American system of selecting a president doesn’t have a very good way of weeding out shill candidates. Kennedy and Trump are going to just have to be called out for their shenanigans. Though the national system isn’t going to change any time soon, it is worth mentioning that on the state and local level, there are alternatives. Several states use a runoff system, wherein if no candidates gets 50%+1 of the vote, the top two candidates face each other for a second and deciding round. The end result is usually, but not always that the candidate who came in first place the first time ends up winning in the end. But it doesn’t have to happen that way. For instance, in 2020, Republican David Perdue faced off against Democrat Jon Ossoff for a seat on the United States Senate representing Georgia. Perdue got more votes than Ossoff, but there was a third candidate who also got some votes, and nobody crossed the 50% threshold. Georgia has a runoff system, and with the third candidate out of the way in the second round, Ossoff ended up with the win.

The other system that is used in some places is called ranked-choice voting. New York City uses this system. Voters don’t just cast one vote in a race but rank their preferences. Theoretically, everyone’s second favorite candidate can end up on top if other candidates are more divisive. This system was a factor in the 2021 mayoral primary, which Eric Adams won. According to the New York Times, “Because Mr. Adams did not receive more than 50 percent of first-choice votes on the initial tally, the winner was decided by ranked-choice elimination.”

All that is nice but not relevant to the presidential election. Instead, a candidate like Kennedy, who has no path to victory, can serve as a “spoiler.” Aware of that dynamic, Kennedy himself recently issued a challenge to Biden to help him fund a 50-state poll to determine whether he, or the current President of the United States has a better chance of beating Trump, with the loser agreeing to drop out. The challenge is a stunt for many reasons including that it is too late for anyone other than Biden to be the Democratic nominee, but more to the point the idea is meant to draw attention to Kennedy, suggest that he’s an actual competitor and most importantly telegraph the idea that Kennedy is competing with Biden, not Trump for votes. Keep in mind, Kennedy’s so-called challenge comes at a time that polls are showing him drawing from Trump more than Biden. Kennedy, who has called Biden the “greater threat to Democracy” than Trump apparently is OK with the idea of a poll taking the place of an actual election as a democratic instrument.

Of course, it isn’t serious on any level. RFK, Jr., like his hidden partner Trump, is not a serious man. It’s all part of an almost childish game of misdirection and obfuscation. And it might just work. If Trump and Kennedy can re-recast Kennedy as a threat to Biden, they might make it so. And just as Ralph Nader drew more votes in key swing states than the margin of victory George W. Bush secured over Al Gore in 2000, and Jill Stein did in 2016 denying Hillary Clinton the win, Kennedy certainly could draw just enough votes from either Biden or Trump to make the difference.

The question is, which will it be? We don’t know. We only know who Trump and Kennedy want it to be. Keep in mind, Trump recently floated the idea of selecting Kennedy as his running mate. Why? Because he wanted a supposedly liberal vice president? No, it’s because he thinks that Kennedy can attract Democrats. That’s what this is all about.

So I end where I began— the entire purpose of Kennedy’s campaign is to elect Donald Trump president.
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5/4/24 Update: Coincidently, a related New Yorker Political Scene podcast was released the day after I posted this. Click HERE if you want to hear it.

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