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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

As Democrats ponder the political consequences of RFK, Jr.’s decision to run for President as an Independent, Amanda Marcotte riffs on the topic at Salon, and writes: “Could Kennedy pull votes away from Trump? Trump’s campaign team certainly seems to think so, at least according to Shelby Talcott at Semafor. She reports that “internal campaign polling suggests his expected third party bid could draw more votes from Trump than President Joe Biden in a general election.” In their typical self-aggrandizing style, a Trump campaign member told Semafor they plan on “dropping napalm after napalm on his head reminding the public of his very liberal views.”….They may find that this is a more difficult task than their belligerent rhetoric suggests. Because the slice of voters Trump and Kennedy could be competing over aren’t defined by political beliefs that map neatly onto concepts like “liberal” or “conservative.”….Right now, polling data is all over the place on whether Kennedy would be a spoiler for Trump or Biden….As voters learn more, Kennedy’s almost certainly going to lose his already weak Democratic support while turning a few heads among Republican voters, especially the 25% who are QAnoners. The party leadership on both sides seems to get this. It’s why Democrats are shrugging Kennedy off, while the RNC sent out a panicked email titled, “23 Reasons to Oppose RFK Jr.” It’s possible that Kennedy’s campaign will offset whatever damage Cornell West’s Independent run may do to Democratic prospects. But it’s also possible that RFK could end up hurting Democrats more than helping them. Harry Enten reports a CNN Politics that “A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted this past week among likely voters finds former President Donald Trump at 40%, Biden at 38% and Kennedy at 14% in a hypothetical November 2024 matchup. The 2-point difference between Biden and Trump looks a lot like other surveys we’ve seen and is well within the margin of error.”

Ali Swenson shares some similar observations at apnews.com: “Republicans attacked Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Monday as the longtime environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist launched an independent bid for the White House, reflecting growing concerns on the right that the former Democrat now threatens to take votes from former President Donald Trump in 2024….“Voters should not be deceived by anyone who pretends to have conservative values,” said Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung in a statement. He labeled Kennedy’s campaign “nothing more than a vanity project for a liberal Kennedy looking to cash in on his family’s name.”….Kennedy, a member of one of the most famous families in Democratic politics, was running a long-shot primary bid and holds better favorability ratings among Republicans than Democrats. Even Trump just two weeks ago said of Kennedy, “I like him a lot. I’ve known him for a long time.”….Aware of the risk that Kennedy could pull votes away from Republicans, Trump allies have begun circulating opposition research against Kennedy designed to damage his standing among would-be conservative supporters….The Republican National Committee published a fact sheet before Kennedy’s speech titled “Radical DEMOCRAT RFK Jr.” that lists times he supported liberal politicians or ideas. The document also listed times he supported conspiracy theories about COVID-19 or “stolen-election claims” related to the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections that Democrats lost to President George W. Bush….Polls show far more Republicans than Democrats have a favorable opinion of Kennedy. He also has gained support from some far-right conservatives for his fringe views, including his vocal distrust of COVID-19 vaccines, which studies have shown are safe and effective against severe disease and death.”

The ever-quotable Norman Ornstein, emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has a few choice words about the G.O.P.’s growing inability to govern, cross-posted here from “‘What Is Broken in American Politics Is the Republican Party” at Politico: “It has been clear for some years that what is broken in American politics is the Republican Party. The roots go back for decades — starting with Newt Gingrich’s arrival in the House in 1979. But the current chaos was triggered, ironically, by the self-proclaimed “Young Guns” — Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy — when they went around the country in 2009 recruiting tea party radicals, exploiting their anger after the financial collapse and the backlash against Barack Obama, promising to blow up the establishment in Washington with the hopes that they could use that anger to catapult themselves into the majority. Their expectation was that once these tea party radicals were in the House, they could co-opt them. Instead, of course, they were co-opted. John Boehner was the first victim of the Young Guns, but now all three of the Guns have been shot down by their own gang. Cantor lost his seat to a tea party radical; Ryan suffered the same fate as speaker as John Boehner, forced to leave by the radical right. And now McCarthy, the last one standing, has been taken out by the same forces in an even more dramatic manner….Donald Trump was in some ways a logical extension of the nihilistic, radical politics that emerged in the two decades before his emergence as a presidential candidate and president. But he was an accelerant, not the cause. The GOP transformation into a radical cult was there before he became its leader, and was itself shaped and incited by the rise of tribal media and social media, and advanced by gerrymandering and other political tools that insulated a minority in the country from the consequences of their radical statements and actions. McCarthy paid the price — but we will all pay a heavier price with an ungovernable House dominated by a lunatic fringe that is now at the center of the GOP.”

Substack star and Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson offers some insights about President Biden that Democrats may find encouraging, amid all the handwringing about his age and competency, quoted here from “‘An end of American democracy’: Heather Cox Richardson on Trump’s historic threat” by David Smith at The Guardian: “I was not a Biden supporter, to be honest. I thought we needed somebody new and much more aggressive, and yet I completely admit I was wrong because he has, first of all, a very deep understanding of foreign affairs, which I tended to denigrate….“I thought in 2020 that was not going to matter and could I have been more wrong? I think not. That really mattered and continues to matter in that one of the reasons Republicans are backing off of Ukraine right now is that they recognise, for all that it’s not hitting the United States newspapers, Ukraine is actually making important gains. A win from the Ukrainians would really boost Biden’s re-election and the Republicans recognise that and are willing to scuttle that so long as it means they can regain power here. His foreign affairs understanding has been been key….“The other thing about Biden is his extraordinary skill at dealmaking has made this domestic administration the most effective since at least the Great Society and probably the New Deal. You think about the fact that Trump could never get infrastructure through Congress, even though everybody wanted it….“The question going into 2024 is: will people understand that Biden has created a government that does work for the people? Whether or not you like its policies personally, he is trying to use that government to meet the needs of the people in a way that the Republicans haven’t done since 1981. He is a transformative president….”

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