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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Kennedy Leaving the Primaries Is One Less Annoyance Joe Biden Has to Face

A noisy dog has stopped barking with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s decision to withdraw from the Democratic nominating contest and run as an independent. I took a look at this development at New York:

Much of the limited buzz about nuisance candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. dropping out of the Democratic presidential contest and launching an attempted general-election independent run has focused on the question of whom the conspiracy theorist might help or hurt in a general election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. That’s understandable, in part because of the likelihood of another extremely close two-major-party race in November 2024 and in part because of Kennedy’s combination of high name ID and a potentially bipartisan well of support (or, as he likes to put it, a “horseshoe” coalition of left and right “populists” whose distrust of pretty much every institution makes them credulous customers for the cranky stuff he’s peddling). There’s also a rush of donations to RFK Jr. now that he’s rid himself of the light yoke of party loyalty.

The truth is we don’t have a good way of assessing a Kennedy independent candidacy until we see if he has the money and moxie to get on the ballot in competitive states. It won’t be easy, now that the adulatory treatment he has been getting from conservative media as a burr under Biden’s saddle may come to an abrupt end.

But we do know the absence of the Kennedy name on Democratic primary ballots next year is an unambiguous boon to the incumbent. With only the lightly regarded Marianne Williamson (polling at under 4 percent nationally in the RealClearPolitics averages) facing Biden (unless you take pundit Cenk Uygur’s newly announced candidacy seriously, which I don’t), he can run as the all but unanimous Democratic favorite who need not campaign for the nomination or even look or sound defensive about refusing to debate intraparty opponents. Even though his Democratic support has dropped since he was polling at around 20 percent in the spring and has been stagnant since the summer, he was still regularly hitting double digits in the polls and couldn’t be entirely ignored (he was, after all, doing about as well as the much-ballyhooed Republican Ron DeSantis). By contrast, Williamson is an asterisk, comparable less to the incumbent than to “Some Dude” perennial candidates.

Gone with RFK Jr.’s Democratic candidacy, moreover, is any fear of an embarrassingly poor showing in New Hampshire, whose rogue primary he could not enter and that media folk might find themselves unable to ignore (particularly with conservative media inflating every Kennedy vote into a repudiation of the incumbent). The Biden write-in effort that New Hampshire Democratic leaders have been quietly undertaking to overwhelm RFK Jr. in the Granite State should have even less trouble swamping Williamson.

Kennedy also takes with him, via his departure from his ancestral party, any lingering affection of Democrats for him in tribute to his famous relatives (I speak as someone who idolized his father and is pained to see his name profaned so vividly). What’s left is a veteran scandalmonger and misinformation peddler who belongs to no party because no party really wants him. Biden and Democrats are well rid of him.

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