By Arab News
By Dalia Al-Aqidi
An unexpected turn of events has captured national attention in the US, just as the political landscape begins to take shape ahead of the 2024 presidential election. A prominent Democratic presidential contender has strongly hinted at the possibility of diverging from the traditional party line and running as a third-party candidate against the incumbent, President Joe Biden.
This surprising revelation raised eyebrows and stirred significant curiosity, not only within Democratic ranks but also among Republicans and independent voters. Many began to question the identity and motives of this candidate. There is a growing eagerness to understand who this individual is, the principles and policies he stands for and, most importantly, how his potential third-party bid might impact the dynamics and eventual outcome of the election. The political arena is rife with speculation and the nation watches with bated breath to see how this unfolds.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a distinguished environmental attorney who carries a legacy as the son of Robert F. Kennedy, a US senator tragically assassinated in 1968, and Ethel Kennedy, a commendable human rights advocate who was honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 by President Barack Obama. The third of 11 children, he also has the distinction of being former President John F. Kennedy’s nephew.
Educationally, Kennedy has an illustrious background, having attended Harvard, furthered his studies at the London School of Economics, obtained his law degree from the University of Virginia Law School and later secured a master’s in environmental law from Pace University School of Law. However, Kennedy has been a notable voice in the anti-vaccine movement. He once suggested that a flu vaccine might have been the origin of his voice disorder. Moreover, during a press event in New York City in July, he claimed that COVID-19 could have been genetically engineered to target specific ethnic groups.
Notably, the esteemed Kennedy family, firmly rooted in the Democratic tradition, has given the US a president, three significant presidential contenders and several senators and members of Congress. In an ironic turn of events, a Kennedy seeking the presidency now faces criticism from within Democratic ranks. He has even taken center stage on Capitol Hill as a guest of the rival party.
Despite his growing popularity within the Democratic base, he appears sidelined by the party’s leadership. Many within the establishment seem to perceive him as a potential challenge to the status quo rather than a promising candidate for the future.
His capacity to tackle intricate policy challenges starkly contrasts perceptions of Biden’s approach, which some critics argue lacks innovative and independent thought. This dynamic raises questions about the party’s direction and responsiveness to its members’ evolving sentiments.
According to a Reuters report, Kennedy boasts a commendable favorability rating, surpassing both Biden and former President Donald Trump. Data from a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in September indicates that 51 percent of those surveyed hold a favorable opinion of Kennedy, in contrast to 45 percent for Biden and 40 percent for Trump. However, when it comes to the race for the Democratic nomination, an aggregation of data by RealClearPolitics reveals that Biden holds a significant lead, outpacing Kennedy by a substantial 50-point margin. This juxtaposition underscores the complex dynamics between the Democratic Party and the broader electorate.
In July, Kennedy shared via X that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas determined that Secret Service protection for him was “not warranted at this time.” He highlighted that this decision followed almost three months of silence in response to his campaign’s plea for such protection. This decision seems to overlook the tragic history of the Kennedy family, with both his father and uncle being assassinated. Further emphasizing the need for such protection, an armed individual last month falsely presented himself as a police officer and claimed to be part of Kennedy’s security team at a campaign event in Los Angeles.
Denying him security measures presents a potential safety oversight and carries negative political implications. Kennedy has been openly critical of the Biden administration’s approach to the southern border, labeling it a “disaster.” He has expressed concerns about the “endless floods of migrants” placing “overwhelming” strains on American cities and leading to a “humanitarian crisis of unimaginable proportions.”
The decision by the 69-year-old politician to change his political stance, which is expected to be announced on Monday, is anticipated to stir unease within Democratic circles. Common political wisdom suggests that a third-party contender could divert crucial votes away from Biden, especially if he faces another election against Trump. Sources close to the Biden administration suggest there is palpable concern among White House staff. They reportedly believe that introducing an alternative candidate into the mix, alongside Biden and Trump — if he gets his party’s nomination — might inadvertently pave a more straightforward pathway to a Republican triumph. The dynamics of such a triangular contest would certainly introduce new challenges and uncertainties to the electoral landscape.
Nevertheless, Kennedy’s choice might also similarly influence Trump’s chances. Such a decision introduces a level of unpredictability, potentially reshaping the dynamics not only for the Democratic side but also for the Republican contender. The presence of a third formidable candidate could redefine traditional voting patterns and expectations for both major parties.
In the forthcoming electoral contest, the route to victory for either Biden or Trump might delicately hang on the decisions of a few thousand voters in pivotal states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Arizona. In particular, the inclinations of independent voters — those not formally aligned with either of the major parties — promise to play a decisive role in determining the outcome.
Democrats disillusioned with the current administration’s leadership, Republicans eager to distance themselves from a return to the Trump years and independent voters weary of the continuous tug of war between the two dominant parties might perceive Kennedy as a refreshing and viable alternative. While a definitive victory might be challenging, his candidacy could undeniably influence the distribution of votes, drawing from both leading contenders’ traditional support bases.
- Dalia Al-Aqidi is Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy. X: @DaliaAlAqidi